An attack on Wednesday on an airport in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, was carried out by drone, the Kurdish Ministry of the Interior said, an escalation of the arms used to target US soldiers based there.
“A drone charged with TNT targeted a coalition base at Erbil’s airport,” the ministry said, adding that no one was hurt in the blast, but a building was damaged.
A Turkish soldier was killed by rocket fire at about the same time at a military base 50km east in Bashiqa, Ankara said, but there was no immediate confirmation of any link between the two attacks.
“We strongly condemn tonight’s terror attacks in Erbil and Bashiqa,” Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani wrote on Twitter after speaking with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu. “We agreed to stay in close contact as the investigation continues.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the airport drone attack, which caused an explosion heard across Erbil.
However, a pro-Iranian group calling itself Awliyaa al-Dam, or Guardians of Blood, which claimed responsibility for a similar attack at the airport in February, hailed the blast in pro-Tehran channels on the Telegram messaging app.
A security cordon blocked all access to the airport, witnesses reported.
The governor said that air links were not interrupted.
“Outraged by reports of attacks in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” US Department of State spokesman Ned Price wrote on Twitter. “The Iraqi people have suffered for far too long from this kind of violence and violation of their sovereignty.”
About 20 bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing US soldiers or diplomats in Iraq since US President Joe Biden took office at the end of January.
Dozens more took place over the preceding 18 months, with Washington consistently blaming pro-Iran factions.
Washington and Tehran are allies of Baghdad, but remain sharply at odds over Iran’s nuclear program.
On Feb. 15, more than a dozen rockets targeted a military complex inside Erbil airport, killing an Iraqi civilian and a foreign contractor working with US-led troops.
The complex hosts foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition helping Iraq fight the Islamic State group, a conflict that Baghdad declared as won in late 2017.
“It seems the same militia who targeted the airport two months ago are at it again,” former Iraqi minister of foreign affairs Hoshyar Zebari, a prominent Kurdish political figure, wrote on Twitter, in an allusion to pro-Iranian factions. “This is a clear & dangerous escalation.”
Pro-Iran groups have been ratcheting up their rhetoric, vowing to ramp up attacks to force out the “occupying” US forces, over a year after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel the US troops.
Counterterrorism officials said that only one rocket hit the airport on this occasion.
However, an Iraqi security source told reporters that other rockets had crashed in the vicinity, including one targeting Turkish troops.
Turkey has had troops in the area for more than two decades as part of its bid to crush the Kurdistan Workers’ Party rebels, who have been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Earlier on Wednesday, two bombs also exploded on roads where Iraqi logistics convoys were carrying equipment for the international coalition in the southern provinces of Dhi Qar and Diwaniyah, security sources said.
The US last week committed to move all remaining combat forces from Iraq, although the two countries did not set a timeline for what would be the second withdrawal since a 2003 invasion.
The announcement came as the administration of US President Joe Biden resumed a “strategic dialogue” with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.
The region of Kurdistan has been autonomous since 1991 and has a population of 5 million.
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