Iran launched a series of ballistic missile attacks targeting the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil in northern Iraq and areas across the border in northeast Syria. The strikes come amid rising tensions in the region following an attack on a memorial service for slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
Missile Barrage Hits US Consulate Compound
In the early morning hours of January 15th, more than a dozen Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar ballistic missiles fired from western Iran rained down on Erbil. Several missiles struck the new U.S. consulate building, resulting in major damage to the structure. While no casualties have been reported so far, four civilians were killed in other parts of the city.
The rare direct attack on an American diplomatic facility marks a serious escalation by Iran. The United States quickly condemned the strikes, with the State Department calling them “an unjustified violation of Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Iran claims the consulate was being used as a “Zionist base” for Israeli intelligence operations. The country’s Revolutionary Guard said the attack also targeted the headquarters of several Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in northern Iraq.
Regional Allies Denounce Iranian Aggression
In response to the attack, Iraq summoned the Iranian ambassador and recalled its envoy from Tehran. Iraq filed an official complaint against Iran to the UN Security Council accusing them of “blatant aggression.”
Kurdish authorities in Iraq also condemned the attack. The prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, Masrour Barzani, said “This attack on Erbil is against Iraq’s sovereignty and constitution – not just against the Kurdistan region.”
Israel has reportedly raised its alert level and is closely monitoring the volatile situation, though it has so far refrained from responding militarily. Iran and Israel have engaged in a shadow war across the region in recent years.
Iran Retaliates for Deadly Attack in Kermanshah
The missile barrage comes just two days after a deadly attack in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, where a memorial service for Qassem Soleimani was targeted by armed drones. At least five people were killed and over a dozen injured in the incident.
Iran was quick to blame “Zionist elements” and Iranian Kurdish groups based in Iraq for coordinating the attack. However, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the memorial bombing.
The Revolutionary Guard warned of additional retaliation to come, stating that “the reaction to the smallest move from these groups will be decisive, serious and crushing.”
analysts Warn of Risks of Miscalculation
While Tehran picked relatively easy targets to avoid provoking massive retaliation, experts say Iran is playing a dangerous game.
Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute, said “the risk of miscalculation is profoundly high. Any misstep could unleash a catastrophic regional war.”
Ilan Goldenberg, Middle East security director at the Center for a New American Security, said “This is about Iran trying to deter future attacks.” However, he warned the strikes are “risky because you don’t totally control escalation.”
With tensions running high, the US and allies like Saudi Arabia could choose to respond, leading to an unpredictable tit-for-tat cycle.
Escalating Proxy Conflict Across the Middle East
The recent exchange of attacks is just the latest bout in an ongoing shadow war raging across the Middle East. Iran has been locked in conflict with the US, Israel, and Gulf Arab states for years via proxy forces in places like Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Lina Khatib, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, said the strikes in Iraq are part of Iran’s long-running efforts to consolidate influence across the region. However, its aggressive posturing could provoke increased involvement by competitors like Israel.
“The onus is now on Iran to decide whether it wants to stir instability for the sake of maintaining dominance or take the higher road of non-interference, which the region desperately needs,” she said.
Most analysts argue diplomacy is the only way to avoid an uncontrolled descent into total war. But with tensions at a boiling point, it remains unclear if the will or channels exist to walk back from the brink.
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