The IRGC has claimed responsibility for a barrage of missiles that struck near a US consulate complex in Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday.
In an official statement, the IRGC confirmed it had carried out a dawn strike on what it called an “Israeli spy center”. The Guards-affiliated Tasnim News Agency claimed some 10 Fateh missiles had been fired on the building in Erbil, quoting an unnamed source as saying there had been several casualties.
Retaliation in Erbil for a “Crime” Committed Elsewhere
The assault came days after two IRGC colonels were killed in air strikes on a suburb of Damascus, Syria, attributed to Israel. IRGC Quds Force commander Esmail Ghani wrote in a tweet on Sunday: “Any repetition of attacks by Israel will be met with a harsh, decisive, and destructive response.”
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said: "Unfortunately, our warnings were ignored. So we responsibly attacked one of the conspiracy and sabotage centers in Iraq.”
Iraqi Shia militant group Kataib Hezbollah also issued a statement confirming the attack was carried out by Iranian forces, writing without irony of the need to expel “foreign” military groups from Iraqi soil.
It went on: “Following the recent crimes of the fake Zionist regime and the previous announcement that the crimes and evils of this vicious regime will not go unanswered, last night the "Strategic Center of Zionist Conspiracy and Evil" was targeted by the powerful missiles of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
The attack was sharply condemned by the Iraqi government. The Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, was summoned to receive the complaint. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who survived an assassination attempt widely attributed to Iran-backed militias last November, visited the site in Erbil on Monday together with Kurdish officials.
The previous day the Islamic Republic had suspended its “secret” talks with Saudi Arabia, which were brokered and overseen by Baghdad, after the Kingdom beheaded 81 prisoners in a single day: the largest known mass execution in its modern history, with dozens of Shia Muslims among the dead.
International law forbids the use of violence as a means of retaliation without going through a recognized political and diplomatic process. In this case, the missiles were fired on a third country – neither Israel, the alleged target, nor even Syria, where the offence occurred.
Condemnation at the UN Level
In a statement on Sunday before the IRGC took responsibility, the Kurdistan region’s counter-terrorism service said the ballistic missiles had come “from the east” and caused largely material damage, with just one civilian injured.
Jeanine Antoinette Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN’s envoy to Iraq, condemned the assault in a tweet: “UNAMI [the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] strongly condemns the heinous missile attacks on Erbil. Iraqis are called upon to stand together in the face of any act that violates Iraq’s sovereignty/territorial integrity, and/or aims to undermine stability/unity. Perpetrators of this cowardly attack must be held to account.”
Since the Trump administration’s assassination of former IRGC Quds Force commander Ghasem Soleimani in January 2020, there have been dozens of attacks targeting American institutions and bases in Iraq. Most of them were never claimed, but Washington attributes them to Iran-sponsored and pro-Iran factions. The State Department confirmed on Monday that no US personnel or facilities had been damaged in the latest strike.
What Was the Point?
Some media outlets close to the Revolutionary Guards have argued that the onslaught on Erbil was also a response to a February attack on a strategically-important IRGC Aerospace Force base in Mahidasht, Kermanshah province, just 100km away from the Iraqi border that housed Shahed military drones. Were this the case, Tehran could still have attacked Israeli positions on Israeli soil, in the same manner as Tehran claims that Israel attacked a target on Iranian soil.
Meanwhile and importantly, Israel has denied that it has such any such military outpost as the one described in Erbil, as have the governments of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government.
The zone where the missiles landed was largely barren, with the exception of the US consular complex and some scattered private properties. Despite seemingly having caused no damage at all, the attack was instantly used by the IRGC as a PR opportunity to promote its ostensible resistance against Israel.