Erbil under Iranian strikes, KRG calls for urgent international support

Dilan Sirwan

Jan. 16, 2024
Image of Erbil under Iranian strikes, KRG calls for urgent international support AFP

The IRGC attacked Erbil on Monday killing civilians sparking global condemnation while the KRG calls for international support.

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ERBIL, Kurdistan Region of Iraq – The Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region on Tuesday called on the international community to help stop attacks on the Region after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) showered ballistic missiles and drones on Erbil, killing at least four civilians.

Multiple ballistic missiles and one-way attack drones were directed at the Kurdish capital of Erbil late Monday night from Iran’s Kermanshah province.

For weeks, the thought of drone attacks felt somehow normalized in Erbil, the city had seen several drones in its skies and many of them were shot down ahead of impact  by US forces stationed in the city, however on Monday night, the situation was different.

Monday’s attacks did not target US troops and facilities, at least according to the US, which meant that without posing imminent threat to US personnel, the aerial threats were not shot down as some of them headed straight into Peshraw Dizayee’s place of residence just around 15 kilometers from Erbil’s city center.

Dizayee was one of Erbil’s most renowned businessmen, owning the Empire World project that to many has been a beautiful embodiment of Erbil’s skyline and pacing development in comparison to southern Iraqi cities since 2003.

However soon after midnight, his house was flattened to the ground and he was dead along with his daughter Zhina Dizayee, who was just five days away from celebrating her first birthday.

Speaking to reporters from Davos, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Masrour Barzani expressed shock at the attacks on Erbil and the pretext under which they were conducted.

“We are not a part of this conflict, and we do not know why Iran is retaliating against civilians of Kurdistan especially in Erbil. We have no animosity towards any of our neighbors, especially Iran. In the past few years there have been other attacks also against Kurdistan, we do not know what the reasons are, but all of the allegations that they have made are baseless,” Barzani said in response to why Iran is targeting the Kurdistan Region.

IRGC allegations

Shortly after their attack, Iran’s elite IRGC claimed responsibility for having shot multiple Kheibar ballistic missiles and Shahid 136 drones at targets in Iraq and Syria, claiming that their target in Erbil was Israeli intelligence bases, a claim repeatedly denied by the Kurdistan Region’s officials, the latest being by PM Barzani during Tuesday’s presser.

The Iraqi government immediately sent over a team led by National Security Advisor Qasem al-Araji to investigate the site of the attack. The investigation was not to see whether there had been an attack, because IRGC had already claimed responsibility and members of a civilian family were already dead, rather it was to see if Iran’s claims of the presence of a Mossad base are true, but they were not.

“We inspected on the ground, accompanied by members of the investigation committee, the home of the businessman targeted last night in Erbil, and it became clear that the allegations about targeting a Mossad headquarters were unfounded,” Araji said in a tweet following his visit, but this was not the first time he had made such conclusion, nor is it the first time Iran had targeted the house of a Kurdish businessman inside Erbil.

In March 2022, IRGC fired a dozen ballistic missiles at Erbil, some of which landed on the house of Sheikh Baaz, another renowned Kurdish businessman. Their reason was also targeting Israeli intelligence at the time, and Araji’s inspection team still made the same statement.

The KRG has very limited capacity to respond, definitely not enough to wage a war against Iranian missiles, but left defenseless in a region soaked in conflict, it is very much left on Iraq to defend the sovereignty on its land, with Barzani asking that the attacks are not left unanswered.

“We, at the Kurdistan Region, have tried all in our ability to serve our people and develop peaceful relations with neighboring countries, but these attacks, unfortunately, are without any reason, and should not remain unanswered,” he told reporters.

Barzani arrived at Davos on Monday to represent the Kurdistan Region along with Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani at the World Economic Forum. His agenda had been to explore foreign investment opportunities and growth opportunities for the Kurdistan Region, however in light of Monday night’s events, Barzani spent most of Tuesday meeting with officials from different countries to discuss security.

Several world leaders and diplomatic missions have also condemned the attacks on Erbil since Monday night.

“The UK condemns the Iranian regime’s attacks in Erbil last night,” UK Foreign Secretary James Cameron said in a tweet. “These unprovoked and unjustified actions are an unacceptable violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“I condemn in the strongest terms Iran’s deadly missile attacks on the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, which recklessly & indiscriminately targeted civilians,” US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski said.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry also had a statement on the attacks.

“The Government of the Republic of Iraq views this act as a blatant assault on Iraq's sovereignty, the security of its people, and the security of the region and a violation of the principles of good neighborliness. The government asserts its commitment to pursuing justice by taking all necessary legal actions, including filing a formal complaint with the UN Security Council,” the statement read.

Dozens of Erbil’s residents on Tuesday afternoon protested in front of the UN compound in Erbil, calling for immediate action against the perpetrators of the attack.

Kurdistan’s defenseless skies

While many rush to condemn the attacks from Iran, the truth remains that very little change is achieved— if at all— from condemnations as long as the Israeli war on Gaza persists, and Erbil’s skies remain without any protection.

While many believe that the solution to ensure the safety of the Kurdistan Region’s people from these attacks is for the US to provide the Region with air defense systems, Iraqi PM Sudani has another idea in mind, which is to ensure the quick removal of US-led Coalition forces in the country.

“Discussions included initiating the Iraqi-US Higher Coordinating Committee's work to review the Coalition's presence in Iraq, formulating a timetable for concluding the Coalition's mission,” Sudani said in a tweet following his meeting with the White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

However, the intent of the KRG seems to be different, especially now that it has become a constant target for Iranian attacks.

“The US is in Iraq on the invitation of the Iraqi government, and their mission is to fight terrorism. We do not think that terrorism has ended, and last night’s events is an indication that instability in the region is still very much at stake and we need international cooperation and support to bring more stability to Iraq and the region as a whole," Barzani said.

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Author Dilan Sirwan

Dilan Sirwan is an Erbil-based Kurdish journalist covering Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. He focuses on political, economic, and social issues.


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