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March 2, 2024

Iran Launches Strikes in Iraq and Syria as Tensions Escalate

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Jan 16, 2024

Iran has launched missile and drone strikes against what it describes as “terrorist targets” in northern Iraq and Syria, escalating regional tensions amid already high alert for further attacks.

Missile Strike Hits Erbil, Iraq

On Sunday evening, Iran fired a dozen ballistic missiles towards the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region. Several missiles struck the city and surrounding areas, killing at least four civilians and wounding eight others.

Among the dead was businessman Zaniar Mudher, the owner of several shopping malls in Erbil and known supporter of Kurdish nationalist parties. Iranian state media described the sites hit as “Israeli strategic centers,” but Kurdish officials said the missiles struck civilian neighborhoods and business districts.

The surprise attack forced authorities to temporarily close Erbil International Airport and order residents to stay home. No Americans were hurt, according to the U.S. State Department, but a local television channel with offices near the consulate was damaged.

Officials believe Iran deliberately targeted areas frequented by Western diplomats and military advisors which have a minimal security presence. The strikes mark Iran’s first known missile attack into northern Iraq in over five years.

Iran Vows Retribution for Recent Attacks

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) claimed responsibility for the Erbil operation, calling it revenge for recent attacks inside Iran reportedly carried out by Kurdish separatist groups:

“Following the recent crimes committed by terrorist groups based in northern Iraq against Iran, the IRGC ground force missile units targeted the headquarters of terrorist groups in Erbil with powerful and pinpoint missiles from western Iran and avenged the recent crimes of terrorists.”

Over the past several months, Iran has seen an uptick in attacks by ethnic minority militant groups along its borders. Last week, an explosion ripped through a military site in Isfahan province that Iran blamed on Kurdish factions. Days later, gunmen disguised as security forces attacked a police station and religious shrine in a predominantly Sunni region, killing over a dozen people.

Iranian officials accused Israel and Western powers of enabling these attacks by providing weapons and logistical support to militant groups seeking to destabilize the country. Sunday’s missile barrage into Iraq appeared intended to signal Iran’s resolve against future provocations.

Syria Base Struck in Separate Operation

In a separate incident on Sunday night, Iranian drones bombed what state media described as a “terrorist training center” in northeast Syria used by separatist groups staging attacks in Iran.

At least nine militants were reportedly killed in the strike on the headquarters of Iran’s Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan near the Iraqi border. The Kurdish group, which Iran considers a terrorist organization, issued a statement confirming one of its bases was hit but claimed no casualties.

The twin operations across northern Iraq and Syria underscore Iran’s increasingly assertive posture countering perceived threats along its borders. Security forces have launched repeated strikes against Kurdish dissidents in recent months, including a drone and missile attack into northern Iraq in September.

Escalating Tensions Across the Middle East

The Iranian strikes come amid heightened tensions across the Middle East following months of violent incidents:

  • Ongoing clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip
  • Turkish threats this month to launch a new ground offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria
  • A string of mysterious explosions targeting sensitive Iranian military and nuclear sites since 2020
  • Houthi rebel drone and missile attacks from Yemen targeting Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • Tit-for-tat strikes between Israel and Iran-backed forces in Syria

While not directly related, these flashpoints contribute to an increasingly volatile regional security climate. Experts worry Iran’s retaliation against dissident groups in Iraq risks further destabilization and conflict.

International Reaction

The missile strikes in Erbil prompted condemnation from the United States, Western allies, and regional countries:

  • The U.S. State Department issued a strong condemnation, describing the attacks as “an unjustified violation of Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
  • The European Union called the strikes “a reckless escalation” threatening stability in Iraq and the wider region.
  • Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates denounced Iran’s “repeated aggressions” against its neighbors.
  • Turkey warned the attacks could set back counterterrorism efforts against ISIS militants in northern Iraq.

Iraqi officials expressed outrage over the brazen violation of their airspace and killings of innocent civilians. But the central government in Baghdad, heavily influenced by Iran, issued only muted criticism, calling for restraint by all sides.

Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq lambasted Iran’s “hegemonic bullying” and threatened retaliatory actions if attacks continued. But Kurdish parties also urged the United States to bolster air defenses protecting major cities and infrastructure.

What Comes Next?

While not expecting further escalation, analysts say sporadic strikes between Iran and militant groups along its borders could persist:

  • “Iran is signaling its willingness to use overwhelming force to deter future attacks on its territory,” says Mohammad Saleh, director of the Tehran Strategic Studies Institute. “We may see more targeted strikes attempting to eradicate safe havens used by separatists near Iran’s borders.”

  • “Tehran is also sending a message to Western powers not to interfere in its domestic affairs,” adds Sanam Vakil, deputy Middle East director at Chatham House in London. “Providing arms and support to dissident groups will only invite Iranian retaliation.”

  • “This cycle of tit-for-tat attacks is unlikely to spiral into a wider conflict,” argues Ariane Tabatabai at the German Marshall Fund in Washington. “But it will contribute to increased instability and violence in areas already overwhelmed by insecurity like northern Iraq and western Iran.”

With tensions high, experts say the risk of miscalculation remains acute. The Revolutionary Guards may launch additional strikes in coming weeks to back up its stark warnings. Kurdish groups could retaliate with fresh attacks inside Iran, setting off another round of retribution.

While neither Iran nor Kurdish militants may want an open conflict, their ongoing shadow war could unleash unintended consequences across the region. All sides show no signs of backing down in their high-stakes feud.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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