DUBAI: An Iranian missile strike on targets in northern Iraq set off an unusual dispute between the neighbouring allies on Tuesday, with Baghdad recalling its ambassador in protest and Tehran insisting the attack was intended to deter threats from Israeli spies.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they had hit an Israeli espionage centre in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, while the elite force said they also struck in Syria against the militant Islamic State group.

The strike appeared likely to deepen worries about worsening instability across the Middle East, with Iran’s allies also entering the fray from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

There has also been concern that Iraq could again become a theatre for regional conflict after a series of US strikes on alleged Iran-linked groups. Those strikes came in response to “dozens of attacks” on US forces in the region since Oct 7.

Tehran says it had targeted an ‘Israeli espionage centre’ in Kurdistan

The Guards said the late Monday attack, Iran’s first direct military strike in the region linked to the Gaza crisis, was in response to Israeli atrocities against several of its commanders and those of Iranian-allied forces around the Middle East.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani said the attack was “clear aggression” against Iraq and a dangerous development that undermined the strong relationship between Tehran and Baghdad, state media reported.

He said Iraq reserved its right to take all legal and diplomatic measures granted to it by its sovereignty.

In protest, Iraq recalled its envoy from Tehran and summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in Baghdad.

The strike, on a residential area near the US consulate in Kurdistan’s capital Erbil, was described by Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani as a “crime against the Kurdish people” in which four civilians were killed and six injured.

Multimillionaire Kurdish businessman Peshraw Dizayee and several family members were among the dead when at least one rocket crashed into their home, Iraqi security and medical sources said.

Iraq’s National Security Adviser Qasim Al Araji denied the house was an Israeli spy centre.

“To respond to the claim that there is a Mossad headquarters we visited the place and toured every corner of this house, and everything indicates that it is a family house belonging to an Iraqi businessman from Erbil,” he told reporters.

‘Reckless’

Israeli government spokesperson Avi Hayman said he would not speculate, when asked at a press briefing about Iran’s assertion that it struck a Mossad site.

“What I will say is Iran continues to use its proxies to attack Israel on multiple fronts. We condemn Iran’s activities and we call on the international community to stand up in defiance of Iran and call for peace in the region,” he said.

Defending the attack, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said Tehran respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, but it was Iran’s “legitimate right to deter national security threats”.

In addition to the Erbil strike, the Guards said they fired ballistic missiles on Syria and destroyed “perpetrators of terrorist operations” in Iran, including the IS.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2024

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