On Sunday, March 13, ballistic missiles struck Irbil, the northern Kurdish regional capital of Iraq. The target of the attack was the new U.S. consulate building, which only took material damage. One civilian was injured in the attack, which Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) took responsibility for later in the day.
Per CNBC, Iran’s state media reported the attack was against Israeli “strategic centers” located in Irbil. An Israeli airstrike had killed two members of the IRGC in Syria on Monday, March 7. The Revolutionary Guard issued its own statement: “Any repetition of attacks by Israel will be met with a harsh, decisive, and destructive response.”
An Iraqi security official has confirmed that pieces of the missiles have been retrieved and identified as being manufactured in Iran. This is another recent sign of regional tension as Iran suspended talks with their rival Saudi Arabia on the day of the attack. This fifth round of discussions was due to be held in Baghdad on Wednesday, March 16. The focus of these talks: to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The delay is due to Russia’s last-minute demand, which has forced world powers to pause ongoing negotiations.
Since the 2017 defeat of the Sunni Islamist group Islamic State, Iraq has faced instability. This defeat came at the hands of Iraqi, American, and Iran-backed forces. This has resulted in militias aligned with Iran frequently attacking United States military and diplomatic sites. Iraq and Syria are also common sites of violence between Iran and the United States. Shi’ite Islamist militias backed by Iran have attacked American forces in both nations, and retaliatory U.S. airstrikes have occasionally been ordered.
The last time a missile attack was directed at U.S. military forces was back in January 2020. This was Iran’s retaliation for the death of its military commander Qassem Soleimani at a Baghdad airport. A U.S. airstrike killed this top-ranking general the same month. American forces stationed at the Irbil international airport have previously experienced rocket and drone attacks blamed on Iran-backed militias, but no activity has taken place for several months.
The White House issued a statement on Sunday condemning the attack by Iran and reinforcing support for Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani, and Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the attack “an assault on the sovereignty of Iraq and its Kurdistan region.”