It was the most deadly attack to hit US-led forces in almost a year in Iraq, where tensions have escalated between US forces, their Iraqi and Kurdish allies on one side and Iran-aligned militias on the other.
A coalition spokesman said on Twitter the attack hit coalition forces in the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil, and that more details would follow.
Kurdish security sources said at least three rockets landed near Irbil International Airport in the autonomous region late at night. Reuters reporters heard several loud explosions and saw a fire break out near the airport.
“We deplore the deadly rocket attack on Erbil. Such heinous, reckless acts pose grave threats to stability. Iraq must be shielded from (external) rivalries. We call for restraint and for close Baghdad-Erbil collaboration to bring culprits to justice,” she posted on Twitter.
We deplore the deadly rocket attack on Erbil. Such heinous, reckless acts pose grave threats to stability. Iraq must be shielded from (external) rivalries. We call for restraint and for close Baghdad-Erbil collaboration to bring culprits to justice.
— Jeanine Hennis (@JeanineHennis) February 16, 2021
UK Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Hickey also condemned the attack.
“[I] Strongly condemn the attack on the city of Erbil and Coalition forces last night. I extend my condolences to the family of the civilian contractor who was killed,” he tweeted.
Strongly condemn the attack on the city of Erbil and Coalition forces last night.
I extend my condolences to the family of the civilian contractor who was killed.
Those responsible must be held to account and we will support @masrour_barzani and @MAKadhimi as they investigate.
— Stephen Hickey (@sblhickey) February 16, 2021
Kuwait, Jordan, Gulf Cooperation Council, and Bahrain also condemned the attacks.
US troops occupy a military base adjacent to the civilian airport.
A statement from the Kurdish interior ministry said a number of rockets were fired toward Irbil and its outskirts around 9:30 p.m. local time and some people were wounded, but it offered no further details.
Initial reports that Indirect Fire landed on Coalition Forces in Erbil tonight. There was 1 civilian contractor killed, 5 civilian contractors injured and 1 US service member injured. More information to follow.
— OIR Spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto (@OIRSpox) February 15, 2021
A group calling itself Saraya Awliya Al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack on the US-led base, saying it targeted the “American occupation” in Iraq. It provided no evidence for its claim.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late Monday the US was “outraged” by the attack.
In a statement, Blinken said he had reached out to Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani “to discuss the incident and to pledge our support for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible.”
Groups that some Iraqi officials say have links with Iran have claimed a series of rocket and roadside bomb attacks against coalition forces, contractors working for the coalition and US installations — including the embassy in Baghdad — in recent months.
The last deadly attack to target the coalition killed one British and two American personnel in March last year.
Tension between the United States and Iran sent the Middle East to the edge of a full-scale confrontation in January 2020 after a US drone strike killed Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.