Iraq arrests perpetrators of Erbil airport attacks

Four rockets strike close to US military base in north, causing no casualties

Anti-government protesters take cover while Iraqi security forces, back, fire tear gas and close the bridge leading to the Green Zone, during a demonstration at sunset in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. Protests have resumed in Iraq after a wave of anti-government protests earlier this month were violently put down. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iraqi authorities on Thursday arrested suspects of an attack near a US military base close to the northern city of Erbil.

The attack on Wednesday caused no casualties among American troops.

At least four rockets were launched late on Wednesday by militants of the pro-Iranian Hashed Al Shaabi group at the Erbil international airport, but failed to reach their target. The US base is at the airport.

“The perpetrators of the attack on Erbil Airport were arrested yesterday," Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said.

"We will reveal their identities after the investigation is completed. We are ready to use force against anyone who targets diplomatic missions.”

The command said Iraqi and Kurdish security forces were co-ordinating closely.

Officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government said the attack was to undermine the federal government’s authority.

"It is an attempt to silence some outlawed groups as well as damaging the stability and security of the Kurdistan Region," Hiwa Afandi, the head of the KRG's Department of Information Technology, told The National.

The attacks aimed to tell the coalition "that they can be a threat, even in Erbil", Mr Afandi said.

The KRG’s anti-terrorism department said the rockets were launched from Sheikh Amir village in Nineveh province and that two of the six did not explode.

Videos on social media showed large fires in the area but no casualties.

"This area is controlled by Hashed Al Shaabi's 30th Brigade," the government said.

"Our special teams are seriously investigating to obtain more information."

US coalition spokesman Wayne Marotto tweeted that the base and American troops were not harmed.

The KRG is "responsible for providing security to the northern region as it hosts thousands of individuals from Iran, Turkey and Syria who seek safety", a government official told The National. 

“We view it as an attack on our interests and it will not go unanswered," the official said.

"We will not allow the region to become a proxy war and conflict."

The Kurdish official said the attacks were similar to those on Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

“This means that it’s very likely the same group, or one sponsored by the same source, conducted the attack,” he said.

It comes amid heightened tension between Tehran and Washington in Iraq.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has told the Iraqi government that it is prepared to close its embassy in Iraq unless urgent action is taken to halt attacks on the mission and American soldiers.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to close the embassy during a call a week ago to Iraqi President Barham Salih.

The sources said reports that diplomats may relocate to the relative safety of Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region were untrue and a closure would mean embassy staff leaving Iraq.

The reports seem even less likely after the attack on Erbil.

Washington blames Iran-backed militias for firing rockets at its embassy on a near-weekly basis for months, and for shelling Iraqi bases housing international troops, including many of the 5,000 US soldiers.

A rocket landed near Baghdad airport on Monday night killing three civilians and wounding two, Iraqi security officials said.