Rockets struck outside an airport near where US forces are based in northern Iraq late Monday, killing one USA -led coalition contractor and wounding at least eight other people, Iraqi security and coalition officials said, sparking fears of new hostilities.
Around a dozen such groups have cropped up in the a year ago claiming rocket attacks, but USA and Iraqi security officials have told AFP they believe them to be front groups for prominent pro-Iran factions including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
Most of the incidents have caused no casualties, but have kept up pressure on U.S. troops and USA allies in the region in the early days of Joe Biden's presidency.
Tension between the United States and Iran across the Middle East have become more overt in the last few years, ending most recently in a targeted drone strike by USA forces that killed Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Days after that strike, the Iranian government launched missile attacks against USA forces at the Ain al Assad air base in Iraq's Anbar province, wounding more than 100 troops. The rockets were launched from an area south of Irbil near the border with Kirkuk province and fell on some residential areas close to the airport.
Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the autonomous Kurdish region, condemned the attack "in the strongest terms".
It says Iraq no longer needs the help it did in the past to fight the Islamic State group, though USA officials have acknowledged that militia attacks also factored into the decision to move troops to bases more easily defended.
"Three missiles fell in the area of Erbil global airport, security officials were dispersed in the area", the broadcaster said, citing a source in the Iraqi security services. Monday's attack was the first to strike the area in five months.
Marotto did not reveal the nationality of the dead contractor.
The Kurdish ministry of health said three civilians were wounded in Monday's attack.
Kurdish counter-terrorism forces said they had found the vehicle the rockets were launched from but did not say where it was discovered.
A group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack on the US-led base, saying it targeted the "American occupation" in Iraq. No one immediately claimed responsibility.
Smoke rises over Irbil on Feb 15, 2021.
Under former US President Donald Trump, Washington had vowed that the killing of an American national in such a rocket attack would prompt a mass bombing campaign in Iraq, although Iraqi officials are unsure if the Biden administration would stick to the policy. Local media reported rockets fell in several areas in and around the city, and multiple people were being treated for injuries in hospital.
"We express our condolences to the loved ones of the civilian contractor killed in this attack, and to the innocent Iraqi people and their families who are suffering these ruthless acts of violence", he said in a statement.
The U.S. -led coalition did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the situation at the military base on the airfield. The embassy in Baghdad continues to operate with the ambassador and a small number of key staff.