BAGHDAD – A civilian contractor was killed and a U.S. service member was injured Monday night when coalition forces in Irbil were stuck by “indirect fire,” U.S. officials said.
The rocket fire landed near a military base that hosts coalition forces in the capital of Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region. Five civilian contractors were injured, coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto tweeted.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe an evolving assessment, said the attack appeared to involve 14 rockets that targeted a U.S. facility in the vicinity of the Irbil airport. One U.S. service member suffered a concussion. Four American contractors working with the coalition military operation were injured, and one non- American contractor was injured.
One non-American contractor was killed. Military officials did not have an immediate independent assessment of who launched the attack, the official said.
Iraqi President Barham Salih called it “a dangerous escalation and a criminal terrorist attack.”
At least three rockets struck near the compound that houses the base and the city’s airport, according to the Interior Ministry of the Kurdish Regional Government. One landed in a residential area near the Chinese consulate, officials said. Another landed in an animal market. Videos posted to social media appeared to show the base’s defense system responding to the missiles.
Such attacks increased last year, most of them targeting Iraq’s central government. U.S. and British soldiers have been killed, but most casualties have been members of the Iraqi security forces or civilians. Iraqi and Western officials have blamed Iran-backed militias.
“The targeting of Irbil, which inflicted casualties, represents a dangerous escalation and a criminal terrorist act targeting the national efforts to protect the security of the country and the safety of citizens,” Salih tweeted. “We have no choice but to firmly strengthen our efforts to root out the forces of terror and the attempts to plunge the country into chaos. It is a battle of state and sovereignty against terrorism and outlaws.”
Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani urged “all Kurdistanis” to remain calm. He said he had instructed security services to start “a full investigation,” and had spoken with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi “on ways to cooperate and identify the outlaws behind this terror attack.”
A previously obscure militia that called itself the Guardians of Blood Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack. In a message posted to Telegram, the group said it had launched 24 rockets targeting “the American occupation.”
Kurdish sources said the rockets were fired from eastern Mosul province, home to militia bases. The governor of Mosul denied that rockets were fired from the area.
Later, Kurdish counterterrorism officials said they had located the rocket launcher.
Irbil International Airport was closed; people were urged to stay away from the area. Helicopters could be heard flying over the city Monday night.
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The Washington Post’s Ruby Mellen and Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report.