PM Barzani calls for expulsion of armed groups from Kurdistan Region’s borders after Erbil attack

Erbil international airport. (Photo: Archive)
Erbil international airport. (Photo: Archive)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called for “lawless” armed groups around the Region’s border to be expelled, following another late-night attack on the autonomous region’s capital. 

“Any armed groups which are not operating within the official Iraqi security forces must be withdrawn from the Kurdistan Region border,” Barzani said late Wednesday after an explosive-laden drone targeted the military base adjacent to the capital’s international airport. 

The attack caused only material damages to the complex, which houses foreign troops with the coalition against Islamic State, according to Kurdish and coalition officials.

Barzani said he would be in contact with the Iraqi government and Kurdistan’s international partners to find “practical ways” to oust the groups from the Region’s periphery.

Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesperson for the US-led coalition, told Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday that an “unmanned aerial surveillance system landed on a storage hangar” at the military air base next to Erbil International Airport. The use of a so-called suicide drone is the first attack of its kind on the Kurdistan Region’s capital; prior attacks targeting the base have been carried out with Katyusha-style rockets.

A security source in Nineveh province confirmed that a Turkish army base in Bashiqa was also struck, although that attack seems to have been carried out with rockets. The Turkish defense ministry said one of its soldiers was killed at the compound and a child was wounded in a nearby village.

A contractor working for the coalition was killed in a similar attack at the Erbil base on Feb. 15, which also injured a US soldier and seven other people. Two men were killed in that incident by rockets that landed in crowded civilian areas of the capital. A group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam (the Avengers of Blood Companies) with ties to Iran-backed militias has claimed responsibility.

Following the quashed 2017 Kurdistan independence referendum and Baghdad’s subsequent ousting of Kurdish forces from disputed territories, armed militia groups with ties to Iran have exploited the security vacuum and used the area as staging grounds to fire rockets at both the Kurdistan Region and Iraqi capitals. 

Less than a week after the Feb. 15 attack on Erbil, four rockets were fired at Balad airbase in Iraq where contractors for a US company are stationed, injuring one person. Two days later on Feb. 22 a militia fired two rockets at the US embassy in Baghdad, but caused no injuries. Last September, six rockets were fired towards Erbil airport by a militia group inside Iraq, although there were no civilian or military casualties. 

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly