Iran strikes targets in northern Iraq and Syria as regional tensions escalate

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry has recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultations and summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires in Baghdad in protest over Iranian strikes that killed several civilians

Emergency services clear the rubble of the house of Peshraw Dizayi that was hit in Iranian missile strikes in Irbil, Iraq, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024.Julia Zimmermann (AP)

Iran fired missiles late Monday at what it claimed were Israeli “spy headquarters” near the U.S. Consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, and at targets linked to the extremist group Islamic State in northern Syria.

Four civilians were killed and six injured after missiles hit an upscale area near the consulate in Irbil, the seat of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, according to the security council of the Kurdish regional government.

Iraq recalled its ambassador from Tehran for consultations and summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires in Baghdad on Tuesday in protest over Iranian strikes on northern Iraq that killed several civilians overnight, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said.

The Iranian attack was “a blatant violation” of Iraq’s sovereignty and “strongly contradicts the principles of good neighborliness and international law, and threatens the security of the region,” the ministry said in a statement.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said in a statement that it had hit a headquarters of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Another statement said it had fired a number of ballistic missiles at “terrorist operations,” including Islamic State targets, in Syria and destroyed them.

Israel did not immediately acknowledge the attack in Irbil and its embassy in Washington did not return a request for comment on the Iranian allegation regarding the Mossad.

The strikes come at a time of heightened tensions in the region and fears of a wider spillover of the ongoing war in Gaza.

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have launched near-daily drone attacks on bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, which the groups have said was in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel, and in an attempt to force U.S. troops to leave the region.

The United States strongly condemns “Iran’s reckless missile strikes” in Irbil, said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. He said the attacks “undermine Iraq’s stability.”

A U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that had not been made public said the U.S. tracked the missiles, which hit in northern Iraq and northern Syria, and no U.S. facilities were struck or damaged in the attacks. The official said initial indications were that the strikes were “reckless and imprecise.”

However, the full extent of the damage from the strikes could not be independently assessed.

An Iraqi security official said Irbil was targeted with “several” ballistic missiles but did not give further details. An official with an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia said 10 missiles fell in the area near the U.S. Consulate. He said the missiles were launched by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Peshraw Dizayi, a prominent local businessman with a portfolio that included real estate and security services companies, was killed in one of the Irbil strikes along with members of his family, according to a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, by Mashan al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi member of parliament. Al-Jabouri said that one of the missiles had fallen on Dizayi’s “palace, next to my house, which is under construction on the road to the Salah al-Din resort.”

Other regional political figures also confirmed Dizayi’s death.

In 2022, Iran claimed responsibility for a missile barrage that struck in the same area near the sprawling U.S. Consulate complex in Irbil, saying it was retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.

Iran’s strike in northern Syria late Monday came after the Islamic State group claimed responsibility earlier this month for two suicide bombings targeting a commemoration for an Iranian general slain in a 2020 U.S. drone strike. The attack in Kerman killed at least 84 people and wounded an additional 284 at a ceremony honoring Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Last month, Iran accused Israel of killing a high-ranking Iranian general, Seyed Razi Mousavi, in an airstrike on a Damascus neighborhood.

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