A rocket attack that struck coalition forces in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Autonomous Region, killed a civilian contractor and injured five other contractors and a member of the US service, the US military said on Monday .
The attack could mark an early test for Joe Biden, the US president, as he tries to reset US foreign policy in the Middle East, especially with regard to Iran.
The United States has repeatedly blamed Iranian-backed Iraqi militants for targeting US interests in Iraq with rockets and explosive devices.
Colonel Wayne Marotto, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the anti-Isis coalition comprising 83 countries, confirmed some details of Monday’s attack with a tweet, but gave no indication of its origin.
“Initial reports that indirect fire hit coalition forces in Erbil this evening. There were 1 civilian contractor killed, 5 civilian contractors injured and 1 US serviceman injured. More information to follow, ”wrote Marotto.
A State Department spokesperson added, “We are aware of press reports of explosions in northern Iraq and are reviewing them. We are in the hands of the Iraqi government for further comment. “
Iraqi President Barham Salih described the attack on Twitter as a “terrorist act” which represented a “dangerous escalation”.
Reuters reported that a group calling themselves Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was targeting “the US occupation” in Iraq. He provided no proof of his claim.
Former President Donald Trump brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran in January last year by assassinating Qassem Soleimani, the most powerful commander in the Islamic republic, after accusing activists backed by Iran for launching a rocket attack on an Iraqi base housing US troops which killed. an American civilian contractor.
The United States subsequently reduced the number of troops in Iraq, where it trained Iraqi forces and assisted in the fight against Isis, from 5,200 to 2,500.
But sporadic attacks on US targets continued, including rockets fired at the US embassy in Baghdad in December, as the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran escalated tensions in the whole region.
Tehran supports militant groups across the region, and Iranian-aligned militias have become increasingly powerful in Iraq in recent years.
The Biden administration hoped to reduce regional tensions and pledged to rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement that Iran has signed with world powers if Tehran fully complies with the agreement. The standoff between Iran and the United States erupted after Trump abandoned the nuclear deal in 2018.
Kurdistan has been one of the most stable regions in Iraq since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein.
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson