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Rockets Strike Near US Military Base in Deadly Attack Claimed by Obscure Islamist Group

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Rockets struck outside an airport near where U.S. forces are based in northern Iraq late Monday, killing one U.S.-led coalition contractor and wounding at least eight other people.

At least three rockets hit areas between the civilian Irbil international airport in the semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region and the nearby base hosting U.S. troops at 9:30 p.m. No one immediately claimed responsibility.

One civilian contractor with the coalition was killed and five others wounded, coalition spokesman U.S. Army Col. Wayne Marotto said. One U.S. service member was wounded, he said.

He did not reveal the nationality of the dead contractor and said it was under investigation.

At least two civilians were also wounded and the rockets damaged cars and other property, security officials said. A statement from Kurdistan’s Interior Ministry said “several people” had been injured based on a preliminary investigation.

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The rockets were launched from an area south of Irbil near the border with Kirkuk province and landed on some residential areas close to the airport.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh condemned the attack, saying in a statement posted online that it marked a “dangerous escalation.”

Kurdish authorities cautioned Irbil residents to stay away from targeted areas and remain in their homes.

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In a later statement, a little-known Shiite militant group calling itself the Guardians of Blood Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack.

It said it fired 24 rockets that avoided the airport’s defenses, specifically naming an automatic machine gun that protects American installations in Iraq.

“The American occupation will not be safe from our strikes in any inch of the homeland, even in Kurdistan, where we promise we will carry out other qualitative operations,” the group said, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was pledging its support in investigating the attack and holding accountable those who were responsible.

“We express our condolences to the loved ones of the civilian contractor killed in this attack, and to the innocent Iraqi people and their families who are suffering these ruthless acts of violence,” he said in a statement.

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Attacks targeting Irbil airport are rare, with Monday’s rockets the first to strike the area in five months.

When six rockets hit near the airport on Sept. 30, Kurdish authorities blamed Shiite militia groups.

Hoshiyar Zebari, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said security officials were investigating the attack.

“There will be consequences against the culprits. This aggression will not stand,” he tweeted.

Rocket attacks have frequently targeted the U.S. presence in Baghdad, including the U.S. Embassy, as well as convoys ferrying materials for the U.S.-led coalition.

The U.S. under the Trump administration blamed Iran-backed groups for carrying out the attacks.


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