Iran’s top paramilitary force appeared to be taking responsibility for a missile attack early Sunday that slammed into northern Iraq, routing US troops, shattering windows and creating new complications for diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with Tehran.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps issued a statement through its official website, Sepha News, saying it carried out a missile attack in response to recent Israeli actions in the region, which included an airstrike in Syria last week, in which two commanders of the Iranian paramilitary group were killed.
While the Iranian force did not specifically claim responsibility for the missile strikes in Iraq, the statement appeared to confirm that Iran launched the attack. US officials said Iran fired at least half a dozen missiles into northern Iraq. The Iranian group said it carried out a missile attack on alleged Israeli targets. Israeli officials declined to comment on the strike.
American, Iraqi and other world leaders condemned the missile attack as a destabilizing act, while the Israeli military beefed up its defenses and US officials pondered how to respond. Kurdish officials said up to a dozen ballistic missiles were used in the attack.
Ambassador Matthew Tueller, America’s top diplomat in Iraq, condemned the strike and said Tehran should pay a price.
“Elements of the Iranian regime have accepted responsibility for this attack and must be held accountable for this flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” he said.
The attack marks the first time Iran has fired missiles directly at Iraq since January 2020, when Tehran fired a similar number of missiles in response to an American drone strike that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, Iraq’s commander US forces in Iraq fired Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force. Scores of US troops were affected by the 2020 strike, leaving dozens struggling with traumatic brain injuries.
Some leaders in Iraq called on the US and other world powers to respond decisively to Iran’s attack.
“Iran has repeatedly targeted the Kurdistan Region and the silence from the international community is very worrying,” the regional government said. “This silence from the international community motivates further attacks in the future.”
Last week, Israel beefed up its military defenses after Iran threatened retaliation for the killing of two Iranian military officials who aided Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two were apparently killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria, where Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes to weaken Iran’s military influence in the region.
Sunday’s attack is likely to provoke more regional opposition to American efforts to secure a new nuclear containment deal with Iran. The US and Iran have paused negotiations, high-level talks aimed at relaunching a 2015 deal with Tehran that would limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions lifting.
The talks have hit a number of hurdles in recent days, dampening hopes that negotiators could soon announce a revival of the deal. That deal, which could also lead to the release of US prisoners, was nearing completion until Russia again called for its trade with Iran to be exempted from Ukraine-related sanctions, Western officials say.
The French Foreign Ministry warned that the strike could jeopardize talks on the deal, known by the acronym JCPOA.
“Such actions jeopardize efforts to facilitate a return to the JCPOA,” the ministry said. “There is absolute urgency to conclude the negotiations that are still open after almost a year and to stop such irresponsible and dangerous activities.”
US efforts to revive the deal with Iran, from which then-President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, have been criticized by Israeli and Persian Gulf leaders, who fear a new deal will allow Tehran to lose allies in the continue to arm the entire region and carry out its own missile strikes with impunity.
Sunday’s rocket attacks injured at least two people, blasted holes in nearby homes and sent US forces taking cover at the US military base in Erbil. At least one missile hit within about a mile of a new US consulate under construction. Erbil is the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.
US officials said no American personnel were injured in the attack.
Iran claimed it was targeting Israelis in the attack. Israel has close ties with the Kurdish region, but Israeli officials declined to comment on reports that Sunday’s strike was aimed at Israelis working in northern Iraq.
Israel has conducted airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias and Iranian personnel in Syria to prevent Iran from supplying arms to the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah. The campaign involves placing mines on ships carrying oil and other goods bound for Syria.
The Iranians, in turn, have often tried to pressure the US to restrict their Israeli ally.
In October, Iran aimed five drones at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria, which is being defended by a small contingent of US forces and American-trained Syrian fighters. The Iranians said in a confidential message to the US at the time that the attack was in response to an Israeli airstrike that killed two Iranian officers in Syria, US officials said.
In January, the huge US embassy complex in Baghdad was hit by four rocket attacks, injuring at least two people but not hurting US personnel. This attack originated in Baghdad and was believed to have been carried out by an Iranian-backed militia group.
– Laurence Norman. Gordon Lubold and Michael R. Gordon contributed to this article.
write to Dion Nissenbaum at [email protected]
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8