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Iran launches missile attacks on targets in Syria and northern Iraq – Financial Times

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Iran's Revolutionary Guards have fired a barrage of ballistic missiles at targets in Syria and northern Iraq, including an Israeli intelligence center run by what the elite force called the Mossad spy agency.

The Guards said the rocket attacks on a “spy center” in the Iraqi city of Erbil were in retaliation for Israeli strikes that killed an Iranian commander in Syria and members of Iran-backed militant groups in the region.

Iran's attacks will add to fears that the Middle East is heading dangerously toward a wider regional conflagration as tensions have risen sharply since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out more than three months ago.

The rockets reportedly struck near the U.S. consulate in Erbil, capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, but caused no damage to the diplomatic mission.

“No U.S. facilities were affected. We are not recording any infrastructure damage or injuries at this time,” a US official said.

Kurdish authorities said the Guards fired ballistic missiles at several civilian areas in Erbil, killing four people and wounding six others.

“This is a blatant violation of the sovereignty of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, and the federal government and the international community cannot remain silent about this crime,” the regional authorities said in a statement.

According to Iranian state news agencies, the guards also said they had launched rocket attacks against ISIS in Syria, which they said was in response to this month's suicide attack in southern Iran that killed nearly 100 people. Isis claimed responsibility for this attack.

The war between Israel and Hamas has led to an intensification of hostilities across the region, as the Iran-backed Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant movement, engages in daily cross-border firefights with Israel; Houthi rebels in Yemen attack merchant ships in Red Sea; and Iran-backed Iraqi militants firing missiles and drones against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

Iran has indicated for months that it does not want to be directly involved in a larger conflict that could lead to it being drawn into a war with the United States or Israel. But it has supported its proxies in the so-called Axis of Resistance as they launched attacks in response to Israel's offensive in Gaza against Hamas, which is also backed by Tehran.

To date, hostilities involving Iranian-backed militant groups have remained limited in individual theaters.

But fears about the risk of a wider conflict breaking out have increased in recent weeks as apparent Israeli strikes have killed a senior Guards commander in Syria and seven Hamas fighters, including one of the group's senior leaders, in Beirut. Israel has also increased its rhetoric and attacks against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

“We assure our dear nation that the Revolutionary Guards’ offensive operations will continue until the last drops of the martyrs’ blood are avenged,” the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement.

The U.S. also killed a senior Iraqi militia leader in an airstrike in Baghdad this month after Iran-backed Iraqi groups launched more than 120 missile and drone strikes against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.

Last week, U.S. forces launched strikes against Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen to deter the rebels from attacking ships in the Red Sea. The Houthis have significantly disrupted maritime trade across the vital waterway, having carried out around 30 attacks on commercial vessels since mid-November.

Iran had also vowed revenge after two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a cemetery in the Iranian city of Kerman this month as people gathered to remember Qassem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guard commander who was killed in a US targeted attack in 2020. Drone attack killed. Senior Guard commanders had initially claimed the attacks in Kerman were staged by Israel without providing evidence, before IS released a statement claiming responsibility for the bombing.

It was not the first time Iran carried out attacks in northern Iraq, including attacks against Iranian opposition groups based in the region.

Two years ago, the Revolutionary Guards launched a rocket attack in Erbil and also claimed it targeted an Israeli intelligence center. This came days after an Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital Damascus killed two of the Guards' commanders.

A man holds up a gun as Houthi supporters gather to commemorate ten Houthi fighters killed by the U.S. Navy in the Red Sea on January 5, 2024, in Sanaa, Yemen

Iranian forces are deployed in Syria, where they have supported President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war there that broke out in 2011 after the Syrian regime brutally suppressed a popular uprising.

The Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7 after the Palestinian militant group launched an attack in southern Israel that killed at least 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. Another 240 people were taken hostage in the raid.

Israel responded with a powerful air and land attack on Hamas in Gaza, killing more than 24,000 people and sparking outrage across the Arab and Muslim world, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Washington