The contractor with the U.S.-led coalition who was killed after a barrage of rockets struck near an airport in northern Iraq was not an American national, a coalition spokesman said Tuesday, hours after the attack sparked fears of renewed hostilities in the region.
Over a dozen rockets hit areas between the civilian international airport in the city of Irbil in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region and the nearby base hosting U.S. troops late on Monday.
Initially, Iraqi security officials said three rockets had hit close to the airport. A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam, Arabic for Guardians of Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack.
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An unspecified number of Iraqi and Kurdish civilians were also wounded as other rockets hit busy residential areas close to the airport.
Shortly after the attack, U.S. Army Col. Wayne Marotto said a civilian contractor with the coalition was killed. On Tuesday, Marotto did not provide further details about the citizenship of the killed contractor.
He also said eight civilian contractors and a U.S. military serviceman were wounded in the attack. The coalition confirmed that 107 mm rockets, a total of 14, were launched, with three impacting an airbase hosting U.S. troops.
The Trump administration had said that the death of a U.S. contractor would be a red line and provoke a U.S. escalation in Iraq against Iran-backed groups. The December 2019 killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack in province of Kirkuk sparked a tit-for-tat fight on Iraqi soil that brought the country to the brink of a proxy war. The official position of President Joe Biden is not yet clear.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was pledging its support for investigating the attack and holding accountable those who were responsible.
It was the first attack since September to target Irbil's airport. Coalition forces based close to the Baghdad airport have been a frequent target for rocket attacks.
The attacks drew condemnation from senior Iraqi, U.S. and other Western officials.
U.N. Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert deplored the deadly assault and called for national unity.
“Such heinous, reckless acts pose grave threats to stability. Iraq must be shielded from (external) rivalries,” she said in comments posted on Twitter. “We call for restraint and for close Baghdad-Erbil collaboration to bring culprits to justice."