Implications of Erbil Attack

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The Attack

  • On February 15, Erbil Airport was struck by  fourteen 107mm rockets. The attack killed a  contractor with the American-led military coalition  and wounded five others, including a U.S. service  member as well as three civilians. 
  • The rockets were fired from a car hidden outside  an agricultural market five miles southwest of Erbil. 
  • Rockets were smuggled into the territory by fruit  and vegetable trucks. 
  • The attack marks Erbil’s second recent strike, after  an earlier one on September 30, 2020, with a  rocket fired from the militia-controlled village of  Bartala, east of Mosul.


  • Despite the insecurity following Saddam Hussein’s  regime’s fall in 2003, the Kurdish territory enjoyed  long-term stability.  
  • Erbil (the capital of Kurdish territory) is a red line in  terms of security. All forces and militias in Iraq  have been committed not to target the Kurdish  territory in northern Iraq for the past years. – This attack has significant implications for the  territory’s investments and development as it  raises uncertainty regarding the region’s security.


  • Observers say that at least three groups  participated in the attack. The first group brought  the weapons. The second group smuggled and  delivered the weapons into the territory’s borders. The third group─ from within the  territory─ launched, supervised, and chose the  operation timing.
  • According to news agencies, shortly after the  attack, a group known as Saraya Awliya al-Dam  claimed responsibility for the attack. This group  is remarkably a “page” on social media with a  logo, a Telegram account, and some tweets.
  • Earlier in the same day, “Ashab al-Kahf”  front, affiliated with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq group,  claimed that a rocket had been fired against  a Turkish base in northern Iraq. This incident  reflected recent criticism by Iraqi militias of  Turkish military operations aimed at restricting the movement of “PKK” in the Kurdistan and Sinjar regions. 
  • Some observers, however, are trying to link the so-called “Ashab al-Kahf” front, affiliated with  Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq group, to Saraya Awliya al Dam that adopted the airport attack, with the  coincidence of striking the Turkish base in  northern Iraq by one of the factions on the same day.


  • It can be assumed that the party behind the  attack deliberately violated the Kurdish red line  as a form of pressure on international actors  supporting the stability of the territory, such as  the United States of America. 
  • The attack reflects a situation of security  balances and red lines to which armed factions  active in Iraq are implicitly committed. It also  demonstrates their commitment to external  international agendas and their movements in  deliberate political contexts following the external interests. 
  • The assumption that Iran moved one of its  affiliated factions to carry out the attack and thus  press for better terms of negotiating a nuclear  agreement with the United States may be highly  valid and closer to interpreting the backgrounds  of what happened. 
  • The United States will have to prove that Iran or  its affiliated factions were involved in the attack  to invest it against Iran and turn it into a  negotiated negative asset on the Iranian nuclear dossier.

Anadolu Center For Near East Studies

Anadolu Center For Near East Studies

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