Rockets target Erbil
Updated: Feb 16
Rockets have targeted Erbil on the evening of February 15, 2021. The rockets hit several areas in a radius of five kilometers from one another. The rockets impacted both the area of the Erbil International Airport, where US-led Coalition forces are located, as well as along Gulan street or what is called 40 meter road, according to sources. US-led Coalition Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson Col. Wayne Marotto said "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."
One rocket fell around 2km south of the airport at a place called Alwa which is known for a sheep market. Two others fell closer to Naz City neighborhood, not far from Diwan and the International Trade Center. A source said that one fell near Waziran and also struck near the Chinese consulate.
According to Mahmoud Shikh Ibrahim, a local journalist and expert, two of the rockets fell within 300 meters from each other. The rockets hit on the north and south side of the same large boulevard. This area is popular with nightlife and surveillance video showed numerous SUVs making their way down the street as a rocket fell.
According to a statement ascribed to "Saraya Awliya al-Dam ( سرايا اولياء الدم)" an unknown group which appears linked to pro-Iranian paramilitaries, the attack was carried out at 9:15pm and aimed to deal a "devastating blow" to the US "occupation." The claim said that US C-RAM did not stop the rockets and they impacted Coalition "vehicles, stores and aircraft of the occupation and many casualties among their occupying elements." The statement claimed 24 rockets were fired. However locals reported only three large explosions and it appears around five rockets impacted. "We renew the pledge to our patient people that we will recognize your eyes to avenge the blood of the martyred leaders, and the American occupation will not be safe from our strikes anywhere, even in Kurdistan, which we promise you more operations." The last attack on Erbil airport was on September 30, 2020 and used Grad rockets. These rockets may have had longer range and been of the 122mm type. In the past 107mm rockets were used by Kataib Hezbollah and other pro-Iran groups to target K-1, Q-West, Baghdad airport, the US embassy's Union III site and Camp Taji. The US has withdrawn from most facilities in Iraq except Baghdad. Attacks on logistics convoys have also caused the US to rethink its suppliers. Locals who heard the attack said it began around 9:30pm and consisted of loud explosions followed by sirens. Smoke could be seen from one impact. Initial reports said a US serviceman, contractor or consular employee was injured. Civilians were also injured, including at least one refugee from Syria, locals said. The Kurdistan Region has vowed to hold those who did the attack responsible. It is not clear if the rockets were fired from Nineveh plains as in September 30, 2020 or from Kirkuk. In Kirkuk govenorate sources pointed to Dibs and other areas as possible launch sites. This is a disputed area between Peshmerga and the federal government. Pro-Iranian militias have control of this area as well as in Nineveh. The Badr organization and its local Shebek brigade play a key role in Nineveh.
Statement by Health Ministry of the Kurdistan Regional Government. "Three civilians have been wounded due to tonight’s rocket attack in Erbil. All three of the wounded individuals are receiving treatment in the hospitals in Erbil." The regional government also says that "At 9:30 tonight, several rockets were fired at and around the city of Erbil and landed in several places. As a result, several people were injured, according to preliminary information. Following the incident, a detailed investigation has been launched by security agencies. We urge the beloved citizens of Erbil to stay away from these places & stay in their houses until we publish more information later." It is ascribed to the Ministry of Interior of Kurdistan Regional Government.
Questions remain about an earlier video from February 15 showing Ashab al-Kahf that claimed it had targeted "Turkish" forces in Iraq. This came amid tensions between Turkey and the PKK and also claims the PMU was sending forces to Sinjar to prevent a Turkish attack there. It is unclear if this is linked to the attempt by others to strike at Erbil.
The Pope is supposed to visit Iraq on March 7. The rocket attack, potentially endangering the airport, could call this into question.
A photo alleged to be linked to the Awliya al-Dam group was published online. It is of a propagandistic nature. According to US officials on February 16 "14 total rocket rounds fired at US base in northern Iraq, 4 rockets landed in US compound, 10 outside, based on initial reports. 1 American service member injured, 5 contractors injured, 1 contractor killed in rocket attack." The number 14 is less than the 24 that appeared to be in the initial Al-Dam claim.
Photos from the attack, published by KRG security, show 107mm rockets of the type often used by PMU or Iran-linked groups. Usually these are put in Bongo-style trucks, but these appear to have been mounted on a smaller vehicle. The launcher consists of one set of 10 tubes and a second launcher. This is a slightly different configuration than usual. It appears that the car was blown up, apparently by the perpetrators, to disguise the evidence, after it was used. It is not known where the car was found. The vehicle was found in the night between February 15 and 16. Prime Minister Kadhimi of Iraq, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces has ordered "the formation of a joint investigation committee with the authorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to find out who is behind the rocket attack near the Erbil airport, which led to the injury of a number of people." Nineveh governor said rockets were not fired from his area, giving some credence to the view that they were smuggled in from Kirkuk or elsewhere and set up in the vicinity of Erbil.
Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the KRG, spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken "about the cowardly attack on Erbil. We agreed to coordinate closely in the investigation to identify the outlaws behind it."
US Statement on the attack: "We are outraged by today’s rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Initial reports indicate that the attacks killed one civilian contractor and injured several members of the Coalition, including one American service member and several American contractors. We express our condolences to the loved ones of the civilian contractor killed in this attack, and to the innocent Iraqi people and their families who are suffering these ruthless acts of violence. I have 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."
Question remain about the nationality of the casualties among the contractors and type of wounds to the Americans.