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Iran claims responsibility for missile barrage near U.S. consulate in northern Iraq

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As many as 12 missiles struck Iraq's northern city of Erbil on Sunday near the U.S. consulate, Iraqi security officials said. A U.S. defence official said missiles had been launched at the city from neighboring Iran.

The Iraq and U.S. flags are seen in Baghdad in September 2020. Iraqi security officials said there were no immediate report of casualties after missiles hit near a U.S. consulate in Erbil.(Ahmed Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

As many as 12 missiles struck near a sprawling U.S. consulate complex in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil on Sunday, in what a U.S. defence official and an Iraqi official said was a strike launched from neighbouring Iran.

No injuries were reported in the attack, which marked a significant escalation between the U.S. and Iran. Hostility between the longtime foes has often played out in Iraq, whose government is allied with both countries.

The Iraqi official in Baghdad initially said several missiles had hit the U.S. consulate in Erbil and that it was the target of the attack. Later, Lawk Ghafari, the head of Kurdistan's foreign media office, said none of the missiles had struck the U.S. facility but that areas around the compound had been hit.

The U.S. defence official said it was still uncertain exactly how many missiles were fired and exactly where they landed. A second U.S. official said there was no damage at any U.S. government facility and that there was no indication the target was the consulate building, which is new and currently unoccupied.

Neither the Iraqi official nor the U.S. officials were authorized to discuss the event with the media and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Satellite broadcast channel Kurdistan24, which is located near the U.S. consulate, went on air from their studio shortly after the attack, showing shattered glass and debris on their studio floor.

The attack came several days after an Israeli strike near Damascus, Syria, killed two members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Iran's foreign ministry strongly condemned the attack Wednesday and vowed revenge.

On Sunday, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iraqi media acknowledging the attacks in Erbil, without saying where they originated.

Video shows the moment of the attack near the Kurdistan 24 office that caused damage to the Kurdistan 24 building. <a href="https://t.co/c0SBSIHRv4">pic.twitter.com/c0SBSIHRv4</a>

&mdash;@K24English

Satellite broadcast channel Kurdistan24, which is located near the U.S. consulate, went on air from their studio shortly after the attack, showing shattered glass and debris on their studio floor.

A security statement said Erbil was targeted "with a number of missiles" early Sunday, adding that security forces were investigating the incident and would release more details later.

'Pause' in U.S.-Iran nuclear talks

The attack came as negotiations in Vienna over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal hit a "pause" over Russian demands about sanctions targeting Moscow over its war on Ukraine.

The top U.S. commander for the Middle East has repeatedly warned about the increasing threats of attacks from Iran and Iranian-back militias on troops and allies in Iraq and Syria.

In an interview with The Associated Press in December, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said that while U.S. forces in Iraq have shifted to a non-combat role, Iran and its proxies still want all American troops to leave the country. As a result, he said, that may trigger more attacks.'

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie is seen in Kabul in July 2021.(Ahmad Seir/The Associated Press)

The Biden administration decided last July to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by Dec. 31, and U.S. forces gradually moved to an advisory role last year. The troops will still provide air support and other military aid for Iraq's fight against the Islamic State.

The U.S. presence in Iraq has long been a flash point for Tehran, but tensions spiked after a January 2020 U.S. drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed a top Iranian general. In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at al-Asad airbase, where U.S. troops were stationed. More than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in the blasts.

More recently, Iranian proxies are believed responsible for an assassination attempt late last year on Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is seen in Baghdad in July 2021.(Khalid Mohammed/The Associated Press)

And officials have said they believe Iran was behind the October drone attack at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based. No U.S. personnel were killed or injured in the attack.

Al-Kadhimi tweeted: "The aggression which targeted the dear city of Erbil and spread fear amongst its inhabitants is an attack on the security of our people."

Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish-controlled region, condemned the attack. In a Facebook post, he said Erbil "will not bow to the cowards who carried out the terrorist attack."

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