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)
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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


Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event
Updated 8 sec ago

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event
  • Nasrallah says Hezbollah is not the enemy of the Christians and trying to portray it as such is an illusion

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah said on Monday that last week’s Beirut violence in which seven Shiite Muslims were shot dead was a dangerous development and marked a new phase in the country’s internal politics.
In his first remarks since the worst street violence in over a decade, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at the Christian Lebanese Forces party and its head Samir Geagea, repeating accusations that they were responsible for the killings on Thursday.
“The real agenda of the Lebanese forces is civil war,” Nasrallah said in a live televised speech.
Heavy gunfire erupted in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahiya, a Hezbollah stronghold, to celebrate the start of Nasrallah’s speech, which came amid tensions over the investigation of last year’s devastating explosion at the capital’s port.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah was not the enemy of Lebanese Christians.
“The biggest threat to the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Nasrallah said.
The bloodshed, which stirred memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, added to fears for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and suffering an economic meltdown.
The Lebanese Forces party (LF) has denied it started the fighting last week. It blamed the violence on Hezbollah “incitement” against Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator in an investigation into the port explosion.
It also accused Hezbollah of sending supporters into the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Remmaneh where it says four residents were wounded before a shot was fired.
“I advise the Lebanese Forces party to give up this idea of internal strife and civil war,” said Nasrallah.
“You are wrong one hundred percent, your calculations are wrong. The region has never seen Hezbollah as strong as it is now.”
Despite his tough stand, Nasrallah dedicated a significant part of his speech to trying to reassure Lebanon’s Christians, saying Hezbollah was protecting their rights and is allied with the largest Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement.
Lebanon’s Shiite Amal movement, a Hezbollah ally, said earlier that the Beirut violence was intended to reignite internal strife and threaten peace.
The seven victims were killed as crowds headed for a demonstration called by Amal and Hezbollah to protest against Bitar.
“What happened showed the Lebanese people the truth behind what these groups are doing in terms of trying to ignite internal strife and national division and threaten civic peace, and push the Lebanese back to the era of civil wars,” Amal said in a statement.
Amal, which is led by Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, one of the most powerful political figures in the country, urged the authorities to arrest all those responsible for the violence.
The inquiry into the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut, has made little headway amid pushback from political factions.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati told the al Modon newspaper on Monday that the government would not meet unless an agreement is reached concerning the investigation.
Mikati also said he was not planning to resign at the moment. “The country can’t be left in circumstances like this.”
Tensions over the probe have spilt over into cabinet, with ministers aligned with the politicians the judge was seeking to question demanding his removal.


Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days
Updated 18 October 2021

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days
  • Migrants picked up by humanitarian group Sea-Watch, which now has more than 400 rescued people on its vessel
  • More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the country’s Ministry of Interior

ROME: Fifty migrants were rescued on Sunday and Monday by the Sea-Watch 3 vessel in the waters off the coast of Libya.

More than 400 people are now on the boat, according to German humanitarian organization Sea-Watch. It is patrolling the central Mediterranean rescuing people trying to reach the small Italian island of Lampedusa in small, crowded boats.

Meanwhile landings continue non-stop on the island. Three vessels with 52 Tunisians on board reportedly landed on Monday morning, and four boats containing 140 foreigners arrived the previous night. One boat, with 13 Tunisians aboard, managed to reach the shore without being intercepted by coast guard vessels.

“On Sunday we had 152 Tunisians arriving here in six different landings,” Lampedusa Mayor Salvatore Martello told Arab News, giving his latest official figures. “There are now 329 migrants in our facility, which can accommodate a maximum of 250 people.

“The prefecture of Agrigento ordered for them to be transferred to the quarantine ship GNV Atlas, which is moored one mile from the coast. We cannot carry on like this. The entire population here is under stress. We are left alone but we have no intention not to help how we can those who arrive here. But this has been going on for too long.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 migrants from Tunisia arrived over the weekend on the southern shores of the Italian island of Sardinia. They were detained by the Italian coast guard and by police.

“They were very dehydrated and tired as they have covered quite a long distance on a small vessel,” a spokesman for the coast guard in Cagliari told Arab News.

The journey to Sardinia from Tunisia is longer than to Lampedusa, and navigation in recent days has been difficult as a result of bad weather.

Sea-Watch said that its Seabird aircraft, which flies over the Mediterranean looking for vessels carrying migrants so that they can be rescued, also reported what it described as “illegal pushbacks operated by the so-called Libyan coast guard.”

Since 2014, nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the country’s Ministry of Interior. This is almost double the number of people who arrived in the same period last year.


More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition
Updated 18 October 2021

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition
  • Yemeni FM meets with chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission for Yemen

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Monday that it carried out 38 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Abedia and the surrounding villages in the Yemeni governorate of Marib.
The coalition said more than 150 militia members were killed and 13 Houthi vehicles destroyed in the operations in the previous 24 hours.
The coalition said that “international organizations must assume their responsibilities toward the civilians (who have been) trapped in Abedia” for weeks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia mounted a brutal offensive in February to take control of one of the last remaining government strongholds. The energy-rich region has served as a safe haven for internally displaced people fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.
The Arab coalition began hitting Houthi targets in Abedia last week following an escalation in the militia’s incursions.
This comes as Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak warned of the “dangerous repercussions” of the Houthis’ escalating offensive on civilians and displaced people in Marib governorate.
His comments came during a meeting with the chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission for Yemen, Christa Rottensteiner.
Bin Mubarak said that the. Houthis’ military escalation “exacerbates the difficult humanitarian conditions of the displaced, especially in the Marib governorate, which is home to more than two million displaced people.”
He also warned that “the international community’s disregard for such practices unleashes the Houthis to commit more violence and violations against civilians, which compounds the displacement crisis, forces displacement of civilians, and increases their human suffering.”


Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing
Updated 18 October 2021

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing
  • The suicide car bombing in the central Karradah district was the deadliest attack by a single bomber in the Iraqi capital after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion
  • Two Iraqi intelligence officials said the man identified as Ghazwan al-Zobai, an Iraqi, was detained during a complex operation

BAGHDAD: Iraq said Monday it has detained the mastermind behind a deadly 2016 bombing in a Baghdad shopping center, which killed around 300 people and wounded 250.
The suicide car bombing in the central Karradah district was the deadliest attack by a single bomber in the Iraqi capital after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Two Iraqi intelligence officials said the man identified as Ghazwan Al-Zobai, an Iraqi, was detained during a complex operation that was carried out with the cooperation of a neighboring country they did not name. He had been tracked by authorities for months.
They told The Associated Press that Al-Zobai was detained in an unidentified foreign country and transported to Iraq two days ago. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak of the operation on the record.
The 29-year-old Al-Zobai was an Al-Qaeda militant when he was imprisoned by the Americans in Iraq at Cropper prison until 2008, and then escaped from Abu Ghraib prison in 2013. He joined the Daesh group after that.
The officials said Al-Zobai plotted many attacks in Iraq, the most infamous of which was the 2016 bombing in Karrada in 2016. He operated under the Alias Abu Obaida.
At least 292 people died from the bombing, most of them from an ensuing fire that turned the Hadi shopping center into an inferno. The blaze was fed by a tinderbox of shops filled with clothing and oil-based perfumes for sale and lined with flammable panels.
Al-Zobai’s arrest came in the second such operation conducted by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service since Iraq’s federal elections Oct. 10.
Iraqi officials said they captured Sami Jasim, an IS leader last Monday in a similar operation abroad. Jasim had a $5 million bounty on his head from the US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, which describes him as having been “instrumental in managing finances for IS terrorist operations.”


Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border
Updated 18 October 2021

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border
  • Midhat Saleh, a well-known figure in Syria, was fatally shot Saturday at the Israeli border in the Golan Heights where he ran a government office
  • Syria said he was killed by Israeli sniper fire

DAMASCUS, Syria: A former Syrian lawmaker allegedly felled by Israeli sniper fire was laid to rest Monday in an official funeral attended by hundreds of people near Damascus.
Midhat Saleh, a well-known figure in Syria, was fatally shot Saturday in Ein el-Tineh, a village along the Israeli border in the Golan Heights where he ran a Syrian government office. Syria said he was killed by Israeli sniper fire. Israeli military and other officials declined to comment on the charge.
Israeli media, however, said Saleh had been assisting the Iranian military presence against Israel. If the Syrian claims are confirmed, it would mark the first time that Israeli snipers are known to have killed someone identified as an Iranian-linked target across the border.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the area. Most of the world does not recognize the annexation, though the Trump administration declared the territory to be part of Israel.
On Monday, Saleh’s coffin, wrapped in a Syrian flag, was brought in an ambulance from the Mamdouh Abaza hospital in Qunetira to Jaramana, on the outskirts of Damascus, for burial at a Druze cemetery. Hundreds of people attended, in addition to senior officials and Druze clerics.
Saleh was born in Majdal Shams, in the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan, and was jailed several times by Israel, most recently for 12 years until 1997. He later moved to Syria, was elected to parliament in 1998 and served as an adviser to the government on the Golan issue.
Saleh’s son, Golan, a 17-year-old student, said that his father has always told him that the territory would return to Syria.
“I am proud that my father was martyred,” he said.