As Iran struggles to quell a wave of street protests at home, the regime launched a drone and missile attack on an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in neighboring Iraq on Wednesday, Kurdish and U.S. officials said.
The Iranian attack left at least nine people dead and 32 wounded, Kurdish authorities in the area said.
It was the latest in a series of attacks by Iran targeting Iraq’s Kurdistan region in the past several days, as Tehran has alleged that Kurdish groups have been helping to fuel the demonstrations that have swept across Iran for more than a week.
The mass protests in Iran erupted after a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody after being detained by the country’s “morality” police for allegedly violating the government’s requirement that women fully cover their hair and the shape of their bodies. The protests, the most serious challenge to the regime since 2009, have been marked by unprecedented defiance by Iranian women who have removed and sometimes burned their headscarves in front of large crowds, or cut their hair.
The U.S. condemned the Iranian attack as an assault on Iraq’s sovereignty and accused the regime of trying to divert attention from domestic turmoil.
“Iran cannot deflect blame from its internal problems and the legitimate grievances of its population with attacks across its borders,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
The Biden administration also threatened to impose more sanctions against Iran to counter Tehran’s actions in the region.
“The United States will continue to pursue sanctions and other means to disrupt Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East region,” Sullivan said.
In the attack, the U.S. military shot down one Iranian drone that posed a threat to American forces deployed near Erbil in northern Iraq, according to U.S. Central command (CENTCOM), which oversees U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East. No U.S. troops were wounded or killed in the Iranian attack.
“At approximately 2:10 PM local time, U.S. forces brought down an Iranian Mojer-6 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle headed in the direction of Erbil as it appeared as a threat to USCENTCOM forces in the area,” the command said in a statement.
Iraq’s foreign ministry said that rockets, artillery and 20 drones were employed in the assault.
“These unilateral and provocative actions complicate the security scene and cast a shadow over the region and will only contribute to more tension,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The Iranian government’s IRNA news agency said the Revolutionary Guard Corps struck bases of a separatist group in Iraq with “precision missiles” and “suicide drones.”
Iran’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it is “gravely concerned about today’s attack, which impacted the Iranian refugee settlements in Koya,” and cited reports of civilian casualties, including women and children and refugees.
Iran has periodically carried out cross-border attacks against Kurdish groups in Iraq.