Why was Iraqi Kurdistan’s Irbil subjected to another rocket attack?

A home damaged in a rocket attack on US-led forces in and near Erbil International Airport. (Reuters)
A home damaged in a rocket attack on US-led forces in and near Erbil International Airport. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 19 February 2021

Why was Iraqi Kurdistan’s Irbil subjected to another rocket attack?

Why was Iraqi Kurdistan’s Irbil subjected to another rocket attack?
  • Death of a civilian contractor and injuries suffered by others at US base ring high-level alarms
  • Fingers pointed at Iran-backed Shiite militias as obscure group claims responsibility for the attack

IRBIL, IRAQI KURDISTAN: With the evidence available, independent analysts are hesitant to pin the blame on any specific group for Monday’s rocket strike on Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. But what they all agree on is that both the timing and nature of the attack, which principally targeted a base in the city’s airport hosting US military personnel, strongly suggest that it was the handiwork of one or more Iran-backed militias.

According to reports, a volley of approximately 14 rockets hit Irbil international airport and nearby residential areas, killing a civilian contractor and injuring up to nine people. Clips of the incident quickly flooded social media and prompted an extended debate on Twitter among defense analysts over the correct course of US action in the situation.

David Pollock, Bernstein Fellow at the Washington Institute, pointed out that the Saraya Awliya Al-Dam, the self-proclaimed Shiite militia that has claimed responsibility for the attack, has threatened via the Telegram messaging app more operations targeting what it calls the “American occupation” of Iraq.

“Iran has officially denounced the attack, but that’s just the usual propaganda,” Pollock told Arab News while emphasizing the fact that the culprits have yet to be identified. He added: “The Iranians may actually support (the attack) to pressure the US to leave Iraq, in line with all their other threats.”

The autonomous Kurdistan Region has long been viewed as a distinctly stable and secure area compared with other parts of Iraq. However, incidents such as the Feb. 15 attack could change international perception of the region.




A volley of approximately 14 rockets hit Irbil international airport and nearby residential areas, killing a civilian contractor and injuring up to nine people. (Reuters)

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is all too aware of this possibility. “Our concern is primarily due to the fact that Kurdistan is not used to this kind of attacks and instability,” Safeen Dizayee, head of the Foreign Relations Department of the KRG, told Arab News.

“Kurdistan has been renowned for its stability; coexistence; economic and political development; and prosperity. Therefore, when such incidents occur, it is of concern to the community, to the government, and to all those who live here, and also to our friends elsewhere.”

Dizayee asserted that the relevant department of the KRG will “continue to provide utmost security and will work hard to find the culprits and perpetrators of this attack, as well as those who we believe are responsible for the last couple of attacks.”

At the same time, he stressed the importance of stronger cooperation between KRG and federal security forces for the prevention of such incidents in the future.

Significant security gaps between the federal forces’ positions and the Kurdish Peshmerga in disputed territories, such as Kirkuk and Sinjar, have been known to exist since late 2017. Daesh and other actors, whom Dizayee described as “loose guns who behave outside the control of the state,” have exploited these gaps.

Among the actors in question are militias that operate under the broad umbrella of the Iraqi state-sanctioned and predominantly Shiite Hashd Al-Shaabi (PMF), but whose loyalty primarily is to Iran and its interests in Iraq. These groups have used attacks against American troops repeatedly in recent years ostensibly as a pressure tactic to force a US military pullout from Iraq.




Some security analysts have questioned why the US has reacted angrily to the targeting of its forces, yet has neither announced nor taken any retaliatory action. (Reuters)

Pollock believes that tensions in the security gaps between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the PMF in “seam” areas around Kirkuk and Sinjar are “probably part of the story.”

“It’s noteworthy that many high-level statements from various KRG, UN and Iraq government officials now repeat calls for better security coordination in those places,” he said.

Some security analysts have questioned why the US has reacted angrily to the targeting of its forces, yet has neither announced nor taken any retaliatory action. But Pollock says that in any event, the Irbil attack will serve “to strengthen US resolve to stay in Iraq, including Kurdistan.”

His views are echoed in part by Nicholas Heras, director of government relations at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington D.C., who believes it is “within character” for Iran-backed groups to want to test US resolve through attacks.

In addition, Heras suspects that the latest attack could be a warning from the powerful Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, which has targeted American troops in Iraq in the past, to the KRG against cooperating with Turkey.

“How much Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controls these shadowy militias, or even a group like Kata’ib Hezbollah, is a point of strong disagreement among analysts,” he told Arab News.




Osamah Golpy thinks the fact that the rockets were launched from a location close to Irbil and struck residential areas for the first time suggests that Iran-backed militias believe that US military personnel in Iraq are increasingly relocating to the Kurdistan region. (Reuters)

He said some analysts believe that following the US elimination of the Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, the IRGC has had trouble keeping the shadowy armed groups under its control.

But others think that these groups are merely a front for Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, providing them the “plausible deniability” they need to harm US interests in Iraq with impunity.

Still other analysts believe that “the ecosystem of Kata’ib Hezbollah groups in Iraq is all just different heads of the hydra, with the body being the IRGC,” Heras told Arab News.

Osamah Golpy, a senior editor at the Rudaw Media Network in Irbil, says that while Iran may not have directly orchestrated the attack on Irbil, this is something it wanted to happen. He cites a Kurdish proverb that he says sums up Tehran’s position: “I wish it happens (I wholeheartedly want it to happen), but not at my hands.”

He pointed out that a media network close to the IRGC recently released a video clip with an actor depicting Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani as helplessly weak in the face of Daesh’s threat to Irbil in 2014, only to be saved by a heroic Soleimani. The KRG has denounced the video.

Tehran claimed that that the video did not necessarily represent its view, even though Iran’s media is strictly censored and heavily controlled by the regime.

“I believe we should look at the attacks within the same framework,” Golpy told Arab News. The scenario he describes is one in which Iran’s authorities officially deny having any links to the groups launching the rockets even though they are aware of who they are and their intentions.

Golpy also does not rule out the possibility that Iran is directing some of these groups’ actions through the Quds Force, which is one of five IRGC branches specializing in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations.

In his opinion, the fact that the rockets were launched from a location close to Irbil and struck residential areas for the first time suggests that Iran-backed militias believe that US military personnel in Iraq are increasingly relocating to the Kurdistan region.

Put simply, Golpy says, the militias are seeking to “create an atmosphere here in Irbil similar to the one they created in Baghdad.”

Twitter: @pauliddon


Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
Updated 14 April 2021

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
  • The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation

DUBAI: Oman has imposed a night-time ban on all commercial activities and movement of people throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly, which starts from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply and media were however exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions, as well as three-ton trucks. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the night-time commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 14 April 2021

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight, bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 14 April 2021

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.