Iran-backed Iraqi factions pressure Kurds to surrender findings on Erbil attack, which killed American contractor

Iran-backed Iraqi factions pressure Kurds to surrender findings on Erbil attack, which killed American contractor
The Kurdistan Regional Government claimed that a group belonging to the Iran-backed PMU were behind the deadly rocket attack on Erbil in February.
3 min read
23 March, 2021
The Erbil rocket attack struck an airport used by coalition troops and residential areas [AFP]
Iran-backed political factions in Baghdad have pressured Kurdistan's Regional Government (KRG) to surrender the findings of an investigation into a deadly rocket attack on Erbil to federal authorities, according to The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site.

The investigation looked into the 15 February shelling of Erbil airport, which killed a foreign contractor working with the US-led coalition and wounded eight others.

The barrage of rockets also landed on the city's northwest residential districts, killing at least one civilian.

Early this month, the KRG's counter-terrorism forces posted a video on its Facebook page, which it claimed was a taped confession of one of the four perpetrators believed to be behind the rocket attacks, Rudaw media reported.

The individual in the video said they belonged to Kataib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, part of Iraq's powerful Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) militia coalition. The individual described the rockets used in the attack as "Iran-made".

Political groups linked to the PMF have disputed the validity of the KRG's investigation and rejected its outcomes. Earlier this month, Iran reportedly wrote to the UN to officially distance themselves from the attack and others targeting coalition forces.

Speaking to The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site on condition of anonymity, a high-level KRG official said that Erbil officials had been subject to "direct and indirect pressure" from Tehran-linked political factions in Baghdad to hand over  those suspected of being behind the attacks to the central authorities.

He said both Baghdad's government and the Kurdish regional government were subject to these influences from "armed groups pledging loyalty to Iran".

Read also: The Iraq Report: Killings, abductions rise immediately after Pope Francis' visit

"The Kurdish regional government has not submitted to these pressures and believes the investigation should be completed in Erbil," the unnamed official said.

"[This is because] the legal authorities in Baghdad may yield to the influence of factions behind the attack."

The independence and strength of Baghdad's judiciary has been called into question after cases which involved Iran-backed militia groups, who hold considerable sway over the country's state institutions, went unresolved.

The Kurdish official added that the groups are trying to portray Erbil's apparent hold on those accused as a type of bargaining chip for securing a greater share of Iraq's national budget.

"Handing them over Baghdad is akin [to] deferring their [the accused] case and securing their release. This is something we [the KRG] cannot accept, because a failure to hold those responsible grants impunity to the factions who back them."

Local politicians who spoke to The New Arab called for a joint effort between the KRG and Baghdad to bring those responsible to justice, in a process free of foreign political influence.

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