US condemns rocket attack on Erbil, as oil facilities targeted for the third time

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi during an interview. (Photo: Iraqi government/Twitter)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi during an interview. (Photo: Iraqi government/Twitter)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The State Department issued a statement on Monday condemning Sunday's rocket attack on an oil facility in Erbil's Khabat District.

Read More: 6 rockets land near Erbil's Khabat district: CTD

It was the second time in recent weeks that the oil facility was targeted.

On both occasions, the rockets came from areas under the control of Iranian-backed Shiite militias. The first time—on April 6—they did no damage, but the six rockets fired in Sunday's attack did some damage, igniting a fire in one oil tank. 

Read More: Rockets fall near oil refinery in Kawergosk

The facility is run by the KAR Group, the biggest energy firm in the Kurdistan Region. On March 13, the home of the head of the KAR Group, Sheikh Baz Karim Barzinji, was hit by six ballistic missiles fired from Iranian territory.

Two weeks later, on March 30, the US Treasury Department announced that it was imposing new sanctions on Iran for that attack, as well as for a March 25 missile attack by Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen on an Aramco oil facility in Saudi Arabia. 

Read More: US sanctions Iran for missile attacks on Erbil, Saudi Aramco

Since then, the Saudis have held talks in Baghdad with the Iranians in a diplomatic effort led by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. They seemed to go fairly well, and afterward, Kadhimi stated, "We are convinced that reconciliation is near."

The Saudis have also declined requests from the US and Europe to increase oil production in the wake of their confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. 

Europe imports a large portion of its energy supplies from Russia and would like to end that, as the money they pay for those imports fuels Russia's aggression in Ukraine. So Europe needs to find energy supplies elsewhere. By refusing the US and European requests to increase production, Riyadh is essentially appeasing Moscow—which is aligned with Tehran.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), however, has taken the opposite approach. Although it is far from being an oil giant like Saudi Arabia, it is quite ready to increase its energy production to meet world needs, as Prime Minister Masrour Barzani told the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum in Dubai at the end of March.

Read More: US welcomes increased energy production as KRG announces readiness to help meet world energy needs

"We have a tremendous opportunity to provide for both our domestic and global markets," Barzani said, "and we are determined to transform Kurdistan into an energy hub of our region."

US Condemns Sunday's Rocket Attack—but Iraqi Statement is Stronger!

On Monday, the US embassy in Baghdad and the US Consulate in Erbil tweeted a joint statement, which was later retweeted by State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.

"The United States condemns last night's attack in Iraq which resulted in damage to an oil refinery in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region," the US diplomats said. "Attacks in Iraq, including on the energy sector are an assault on the sovereignty of Iraq and hurt Iraqi citizens."

"The United States stands with the people of Iraq," they continued. "We will continue to work with our Iraqi partners to ensure the security, stability, and sovereignty of the Iraqi state."

The US statement—full of bureaucratic language—pales in comparison to Iraq's statement. The boiler-plate US wording—which scarcely mentioned the Kurds—did not even note that this was the third attack on the Kurdistan Region's biggest energy firm since mid-March.

By contrast, the statements of condemnation tweeted by Kadhimi's office conveyed far more of a sense of genuine, self-righteous anger, and it was, in fact, retweeted by the US-led Coalition, while no comparable attacks had occurred in Iraq proper!

One might compare the US language to the tweet from Kadhimi's office. 

"While Iraqis were enjoying security and safety and preparing to celebrate the blessed Eid al-Fitr (which ends the fasting month of Ramadan), the gangs of terrorism and crime are trying to disturb life, intimidate society, and threaten oil installations in the country," it said. "The KAR Company's refinery was targeted with rockets in the Kor Kosj area of the Khabat district in Erbil."

It pointedly added, "This cowardly act was intended to affect the electric power supply at this time."

Kadhimi's office saw a concrete purpose to the attack that had apparently eluded those whom President Harry S. Truman referred to as "the striped pants boys." 

Kadhimi's office also vowed that Iraq's security forces would "pursue and eliminate" the "terrorist and criminal gangs" behind the attack.

That may be easier said than done, as those gangs are backed by Iran—another point the US statement could have mentioned, but did not.