Missiles intercepted targeting airport in northern Iraq

Baghdad: At least six missiles targeting Irbil international airport in northern Iraq were intercepted on Wednesday evening (Thursday AEST), a statement from the Kurdish Interior Ministry said, as diplomatic tensions between Washington and Baghdad mounted over a spate of rocket attacks targeting the US presence.

The US-led coalition maintains troops on a base inside the airport. The recent attacks have, until now, exclusively targeted the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of the Baghdad government, and the capital's airport. Roadside bombs have also routinely targeted convoys carrying materials for the US-led coalition forces.

Women inspect the aftermath of a katyusha rocket attack near international airport in Baghdad, Iraq.Credit:AP

According to the statement, the missiles were intercepted at 8.30pm and did not cause any major damage. Two Kurdish officials said one of the rockets hit the headquarters of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition party banned in Iran. The officials requested anonymity in line with regulations.

The statement said the rockets were fired from a ute near Bartella, south of Irbil in Nineveh province, which are areas under the purview of Brigade 30 of the Popular Mobilisation Forces. The brigade is composed of ethnic Shabak militiamen. The PMF is an umbrella grouping of mostly Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias that is part of Iraq's armed forces.

The Iraqi military said the perpetrators were “terrorist groups” and that one rocket had landed close to Hasansham camp for internally displaced people.

On Monday three children and two women were killed when two militia rockets hit a family home, the Iraqi military said. Police sources said Baghdad airport was the intended target.

Mourners pray over the coffins of civilians killed by a Katyusha rocket attack near the international airport in Baghdad on Tuesday.Credit:AP

Washington blames such attacks on Iranian-backed militia groups. Iran has not directly commented on the incidents

The frequency of the attacks led to US threats last week to close its Baghdad embassy unless decisive action was taken to reign in Shiite militias suspected of launching the attacks. Iraq's foreign minister on Wednesday said the government was taking measures to consolidate security in the Green Zone and airport.

The attack in Irbil, a rare target for rockets, is considered a serious escalation by Iraqi officials.

Kurdish officials, and former Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, said the incident was “yet another escalation” to undermine security in the country by “the same groups who are attacking the US embassy in Baghdad and its convoys. Action is needed to stop it.”

AP

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