BAGHDAD — At least six missiles targeting Irbil international airport in northern Iraq were intercepted Wednesday evening, a statement from the Kurdish Interior Ministry said, as diplomatic tensions between Washington and Baghdad mounted over a spate of rocket attacks targeting the U.S. presence.
The U.S.-led coalition maintains a troop presence on a base inside the airport. The recent attacks have, until now, exclusively targeted the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of the Baghdad government, and the capital’s airport. Roadside bombs have also routinely targeted convoys carrying materials for the U.S.-led coalition forces.
According to the statement, the missiles were intercepted at 8:30 p.m. and did not cause any major damage. Two Kurdish officials said one of the rockets hit the headquarters of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition party banned in Iran. The officials requested anonymity in line with regulations.
The statement said the rockets were fired from a pickup truck near Bartella, south of Irbil in Nineveh province, which are areas under the purview of Brigade 30 of the Popular Mobilization Forces. The brigade is composed of ethnic Shabak militiamen.
Iraq’s military said the perpetrators were “terrorist groups,” and that one rocket had landed close to Hasansham camp for the internally displaced.
The frequency of the attacks led to U.S. threats last week to close its Baghdad embassy unless decisive action was taken to reign in Shiite militias suspected of launching the attacks. Iraq’s foreign minister on Wednesday said the government was taking measures to consolidate security in the Green Zone and airport.
The attack in Irbil, a rare target for rockets, is considered a serious escalation by Iraqi officials.
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Kurdish officials, and former Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, said the incident was “yet another escalation” to undermine security in the country by “the same groups who are attacking the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and its convoys. Action is needed to stop it.”