Iraqi Kurdistan repeats request for defence system after Iranian attack on Erbil

Bill to equip Peshmerga was approved by US Congress in December but is waiting for Biden's signature

The home of Iraqi Kurdish businessman Peshraw Dizayee, who was killed alongside family members in an overnight missile attack on Erbil. EPA
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Iraqi Kurdish officials on Tuesday repeated calls for an anti-air defence system after Iran launched missiles at northern Iraq, killing five civilians on Monday night.

Tehran also hit areas of Syria outside the control of President Bashar Al Assad, regional sources said.

“We have asked for a defence system and federal and international support to bring this continuous violation and attacks to an end,” a Kurdish official told The National.

“It will take time,” he said, adding that Erbil welcomed this move and encouraged the instalment of “any system that protects the skies of the Kurdistan region from drones and missiles”.

In December, the US Congress passed a bill that includes equipping the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi government forces with anti-air defence systems.

The bill, the 2024 National Defence Authorisation Act, is now waiting for President Joe Biden’s signature.

“It won't be easy to get, but we need this urgently,” said the Kurdish official.

The strikes occurred amid rising tensions between the US and Iran's proxy militias in the Middle East over the Israel-Gaza war. The militias have increased attacks against US and Israeli forces from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The main systems used by the US for this role, the Patriot system and Terminal High Altitude Air Defence, or THAAD, are currently in high demand for US forces and allies.

In July, a senior US commander involved in air defence said capacity was stretched amid a series of global emergencies.

Those include protecting US and South Korean forces from possible North Korean attacks as well as protecting US bases in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the US has donated or sold Patriot systems and their missiles – each interceptor costs around $3 million – to Ukraine and Israel.

Jordan has also requested the US use Patriot air defences to protect the kingdom, amid concerns of regional escalation.

Two children were among those killed in Monday's missile attacks on the Iraq's Kurdish city of Erbil, officials said. Erbil is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, an Kurdish armed group allied with the US.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which oversees Tehran's proxies abroad, claimed it had hit a base hosting US military personnel and an Israeli Mossad headquarters in Erbil.

It said the attacks in Iraq's Kurdish region, which consists of three provinces, were also aimed at “destroying anti-Iranian terrorist groups” in the area.

Iraqi media reported that the father of the children, aged 11 months and 18 months, was believed to be prominent Kurdish businessman Peshraw Dizayee, who was also killed.

Iraqi Christian businessman Karam Mikhail, owner of food distribution company Rayyan Al Iraq Group, was also killed while visiting Mr Dizayee's home.

Mr Dizayee was a successful real estate developer in the Kurdish region.

An official in Erbil said the attack had mainly damaged his home.

“The Iranians are becoming hysteric. They want to show their people that they can respond to Israel,” the official said.

An official in Baghdad said he could not “understand how Tehran could conduct such a heinous act”.

“He was celebrating with his family in his own residence and it was targeted,” the Iraqi official told The National.

“We can't understand why Iran would target businessmen in the Kurdish region.”

The Iraqi official said Mr Dizayee was “just a businessman” and had “zero affiliation with politics”.

Last month, Israel killed IRGC commander Razi Mousavi in a strike near Damascus, Iranian media reported, as it increased its air raids on Tehran-linked targets in Syria.

Iran is a main backer of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that sparked the war in Gaza with a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry denounced the attack on Erbil as “aggression against the sovereignty of Iraq and the security of the Iraqi people and harming good-neighbourly relations and the security of the region”.

The Iraqi government will file a complaint about the attack to the United Nations Security Council, it added.

Under Iraq's sectarian quotas, the Foreign Minister, Fouad Hussein, is Kurdish.

He is also a veteran KDP member, while the rest of Iraq's government mostly comprises pro-Iranian politicians.

Iraq has also summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires in Baghdad to protest against the attacks, the Foreign Ministry said, as it summoned the Iraqi ambassador in Tehran for discussions.

This is a very bold and strong move from Baghdad against Iran, it's important the government stays strong
Baghdad official

“This is a very bold and strong move from Baghdad against Iran, it's important the government stays strong,” said the official in Baghdad.

“The real answer to stopping these attacks is through dialogue.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also claimed responsibility for attacks on Monday in northern Syria said were aimed at ISIS and other militant groups.

KDP leader and former president of the Kurdish region Masoud Barzani said Iran's claims of a Mossad presence in the area were “baseless”.

“My message to the perpetrators of last night’s missile and drone attack: There is no pride in murdering civilians, you can kill us, but rest assured that the will of the people of Kurdistan shall remain unwavering,” he said.

Opposition sources in Syria said several Fateh 110 missiles were fired from Latakia, a coastal region controlled by the Fourth Division, a Syrian army unit under the command of Mr Al Assad's brother Maher.

The missiles hit an abandoned clinic in western Idlib and desert areas near the city of Palmyra. No casualties were reported.

The sources said the clinic had previously served as a base for the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, an Uighur group formerly allied with al Qaeda, but which now has tense relations with al Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, which has been classified as a terrorist group by the US.

Tehran said the targets were ISIS operatives, in response to recent terror attacks, including bombings near the tomb of Gen Qassem Suleimani, commander of the IRGC's Quds Force.

“[ISIS] was targeted in headquarters of militant groups in Idlib in Syria in response to the group’s recent terrorist attacks in Iran,” Iranian news agencies said, quoting the IRGC.

On Tuesday morning, local media reported that civil defence teams in Erbil were still working to rescue a woman from under the rubble, while “heavy damage” was reported on the road connecting Erbil and the town of Pirmam.

Iran's Irna state news outlet alleged that Mr Dizayee had “close ties” to Mossad. The news outlet provided no evidence for the claim.

No US bases were affected by the missile strikes in Erbil and there were no American casualties, US officials have confirmed.

The claimed attack on the “Mossad headquarters” was retaliation for attacks on IRGC leaders, the Iranian armed forces unit said.

In recent years, Iran has carried out strikes in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region, saying the area is used as a staging ground for Iranian separatist groups, as well as agents of its arch enemy, Israel.

Erbil has also been repeatedly struck by Iran-backed militias in recent years, with militants attacking coalition troops based at the international airport.

Flights are not affected by the attacks, authorities said on Tuesday morning.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said Tehran respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries but at the same time was using its “legitimate and legal right to deter national security threats”.

“After the enemy miscalculated by targeting the Islamic Republic, Iran retaliated with its high intelligence capability in a precise and targeted operation against the culprits' headquarters,” Mr Kanaani added.

Iran said the strikes in Syria were in retaliation to this month's attack on a police station in Sistan and Baluchestan province in the country's south-east that left 11 personnel killed and seven others wounded.

It was claimed by the hardline militant group Jaish Al Adl, or Army of Justice.

Updated: January 29, 2024, 6:25 AM