Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps threatened Friday to strike “Zionist bases” in Iraq, days after lobbing missiles at the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
“If Iraqi officials do not take action to remove other bases of the Zionists in that country while our security continues to be threatened from this region, we will respond without hesitation,” IRGC spokesman Ramazan Sharif said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
“It is our natural right to destroy any base from which any attack is carried out against the security of Iran and this is a redline for us,” he added.
Earlier this week, around 12 Iranian missiles hit targets in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. Some landed near the US consulate.
Iran claimed it hit Israeli bases in the attack, calling it retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard the previous week.
No injuries were reported in the attack on Erbil. But it marked a significant escalation between the US and Iran and upset Iraq’s leadership, which called it a “violation of international law and norms” and summoned the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad in protest. Hostility between the US and Iran has often played out in Iraq, whose government is allied with both countries.
Iran and the US are negotiating a nuclear agreement in Vienna, and the US is reportedly considering de-listing the Revolutionary Guards as a terror group, to Israel’s chagrin.
Another report this week said Iran’s attack on Erbil was related to an airstrike in February that caused major damage to Iran’s drone fleet.
In his remarks Friday, Sharif claimed “the Zionists had admitted themselves that their drones” took off from Erbil and flew over a military base in Kermanshah, where the reported attack on the Iranian drones occurred. He did not, however, refer to the alleged strike.
Separately Friday, the top US commander for the Middle East said the exchange of missile strikes by Iran and Israel in Iraq and Syria puts US forces at risk.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie told Pentagon reporters that over the past six months Iran has attacked US forces and facilities a number of times, but “very good action on the part of commanders on the ground” has thwarted any US casualties.
“Had US casualties occurred, I think we might be in a very different place right now,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie and other US officials said this week the missile strikes on Sunday that hit close to the consulate were not aimed at the US. Both US and Israeli officials declined to publicly comment or describe the target.
“I think it’s obvious that Israel is going to take steps to defend itself when it’s confronted with with Iranian actions. And of course, Iran is dedicated to the destruction of Israel,” McKenzie said. “I do worry about these exchanges between Iran and Israel, because many times our forces are at risk, whether in Iraq or in Syria. So that, in fact, does concern me.”
McKenzie, who is retiring after about three years as head of US Central Command, was speaking at what was expected to be his final press briefing. He said that as he prepares to turn over the job to incoming Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, his message to his successor is that Iran continues to be his biggest challenge.
“My central problem in my three years of command was Iran,” said McKenzie, who also oversaw the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and commando raids to kill Islamic State leaders. “There were other problems, other huge problems, but the headquarters as a whole … focused on the Iranian problem and everything attendant to that.”