Iranian missile strike on Erbil may be linked to gas pipeline project

The aim of an Iranian missile strike on Erbil in Iraq this month may have been intended to derail a gas pipeline project, according to an exclusive Reuters report.

A plan for Iraq’s Kurdistan region to supply gas to Turkey and Europe – with the help of Israel – is part of what prompted Iran to strike the Kurdish capital Erbil, Iraqi officials say and Turkish.

The March 13 attack on Erbil came as a shock to officials across the region for its ferocity and was a rare publicly declared assault by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Many were surprised that the attack came amid nuclear talks with Iran and at a time when Tehran was demanding that the United States lift sanctions on the IRGC.

The IRGC said the strike hit Israeli “strategic centers” in Erbil and was in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike that killed two of its operatives in Syria. There were also hints that the attack was in retaliation for an Israeli drone attack in February which destroyed an IRGC drone base in western Iran.

The choice of target, however, has baffled many officials and analysts. Most of the 12 missiles hit near the villa of a Kurdish businessman involved in the energy sector of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Iraqi and Turkish officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity this week said they believed the attack was intended to send a multi-pronged message to US allies in the region – but a key trigger was a plan to inject Kurdish gas into Turkey and Europe. , with the participation of Israel.

The interior of the villa damaged in the ballistic missile attack.

“There have been two recent meetings between Israeli and American energy officials and specialists at the villa to discuss shipping gas from Kurdistan to Turkey through a new pipeline,” a security official said. Iraqi.

A senior Iranian security official told Reuters the attack was “a versatile message to many people and groups. It’s up to them how to interpret it. Whatever (Israel) is planning, from the sector from energy to agriculture, will not materialize”.

Two Turkish officials confirmed that talks involving US and Israeli officials had recently taken place to discuss supplying Iraq with natural gas for Turkey and Europe, but did not say where they took place .

The Iraqi security official and a former US official familiar with the plans said the Kurdish businessman whose villa was hit by Iranian missiles, Baz Karim Barzanji, was working on developing the export pipeline.

The disclosure places Iran’s attack on Erbil in the context of regional energy interests, rather than Israeli military attacks on the IRGC, as has been widely reported.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the matter. Barzanji did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The office of Iraqi Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani has denied any meeting with US and Israeli officials to discuss a pipeline that took place at Barzanji’s villa. The Kurds deny any Israeli military or official presence on their territory.

TURKEY-ISRAEL RECOGNITION

The Iraqi, Turkish and Western sources spoke to Reuters mostly on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to make statements to the media.

They said the move comes at a politically sensitive time for Iran and the region: the gas export plan could threaten Iran’s place as a major gas supplier to Iraq and Turkey. while its economy is still reeling from international sanctions.

Photo taken on a phone during one of the explosions in Erbil.

It also comes as Israel, Iran’s biggest foe in the region, and Turkey deepen ties and consider deeper energy cooperation as sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine threaten serious shortages across Europe.

Iran is also a close ally of Russia and disrupting a gas supply plan for Europe could also hurt Moscow’s leading role as a major supplier to the continent.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Turkey and Israel could work together to transport Israeli natural gas to Europe. Erdogan also met with Barzani and said Ankara wants to sign a natural gas supply deal with Iraq.

“The timing of the attack in Erbil is very interesting. It seems that it was more aimed at energy exports from northern Iraq and possible cooperation that would include Israel,” one of the Turkish officials said.

“Some talks have taken place for natural gas exports from northern Iraq, and we know that Iraq, the United States and Israel have been involved in this process. Turkey also supports this,” added the responsible.

Iraqi security official says at least two meetings to discuss the issue, with US and Israeli energy specialists, took place at Barzanji’s villa, which he says explained the choice of the target of the Iranian missile strike. No one was seriously injured in the attack, but the villa was badly damaged.

An Iraqi government official and a Western diplomat in Iraq said Barzanji was known to welcome foreign officials and businessmen into his home and that they included Israelis.

The Iraqi security official and former US official said Barzanji’s KAR Group company was working to expedite the export pipeline. The new pipeline would eventually connect to one already completed on the Turkish side of the border, the former US official said.

KAR Group has built and manages the Kurdish region’s domestic pipeline, said Kurdistan Presidency Chief of Staff Fawzi Harir. It also owns a third of Kurdistan’s oil export pipeline under a lease agreement. The rest belongs to the Russian Rosneft.

Based on a Reuters report

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