(CNSNews.com) – The State Department confirmed on Thursday that a U.S. citizen had been killed by an Iranian rocket in Iraqi Kurdistan, after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed that at least 73 of its ballistic missiles had hit Iranian-Kurdish “terrorist” targets in the area.
“We can confirm that a U.S. citizen was killed as a result of a rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region yesterday,” principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told a teleconference briefing. He said he could not provide further comment, citing privacy considerations.
Patel repeated the U.S. government’s condemnation of Wednesday’s missile strikes, which were accompanied by attacks by armed drones.
“We continue to condemn Iran’s violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. “At the United States’ disposal continues to be a number of tools and a number of lines of efforts to continue to hold Iran accountable for its destabilizing actions in the region.”
Patel said the U.S. would continue to pursue those “lines of efforts,” and while he declined to elaborate added that “those options continue to remain on the table.”
The Kurdistan 24 news service, reporting from Erbil, said at least 13 people had been killed and 57 wounded in the attacks.
U.S. Central Command reported earlier that no U.S. forces had been killed or wounded in the Iranian attack.
It said U.S. forces had shot down an Iranian Mojer-6 unmanned aerial vehicle heading towards Erbil “as it appeared as a threat to CENTCOM forces in the area.”
(U.S. troops stationed in northern Iraq at the invitation of the government are advising and assisting local forces in the campaign to ensure the “lasting defeat” of the Sunni terrorist group ISIS.)
The IRGC linked its missile barrage in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region to the protests that have roiled Iran since an Iranian Kurdish woman died in police custody on September 16 after being arrested by “morality police” enforcing the regime’s strict hijab rules.
The young woman, Mahsa Amini, came from Iran’s Kurdistan province, and the protests began there before spreading across the country.
A senior IRGC officer told the Tasnim news agency that the groups targeted in the missile strike were playing a major role in the unrest.
The IRGC Ground Forces said in a statement that Iran had warned the authorities in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region “to dismantle the activities of anti-Iranian terrorist groups affiliated with global arrogance in their territory.” (“Global arrogance” is the regime’s term for the United States.)
It said the IRGC had launched the strikes because the groups concerned had continued to attack Iranian border areas and checkpoints, “as well as supporting the recent riots.”
“The terrorists in northern Iraq have been largely involved in a series of deadly riots in Iran by sneaking armed elements and caches of weapons to support groups of thugs behind violence in Iranian cities,” Iran’s Mehr news agency charged on Thursday.
‘Anti-revolutionary and separatist terrorist groups’
Millions of Kurds live across a huge area of the Middle East including parts of north-western Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and eastern Turkey. The regime in Tehran claims that Iranian Kurdish groups – which it views as terrorists – have safe haven in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
Tasnim quoted IRGC Ground Forces chief Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour as saying that the strikes could continue “until the full disarmament of anti-revolutionary and separatist terrorist groups which have taken shelter in northern Iraq.”
Earlier, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan condemned the Iranian missile and drone attacks, calling them “an assault on the sovereignty of Iraq and its people.”
“Iranian leaders continue to demonstrate flagrant disregard not only for the lives of their own people, but also for their neighbors and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity enshrined in the U.N. Charter,” he said. “Iran cannot deflect blame from its internal problems and the legitimate grievances of its population with attacks across its borders.”
The Kurdish semi-autonomous authorities in Erbil condemned the Iranian attack.
“The Kurdistan Region’s position is clear that it will not allow any security threat to the neighboring countries from its borders, while emphasizing that the Kurdistan Region should not be used as a battleground to settle disputes among rival parties,” it said.
The government in Baghdad summoned the Iranian ambassador, who was “handed a hard-hitting protest letter due to the continuous bombing operations,” Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahaf told state media.
Iranian state media said the groups targeted in the strike included the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, and the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK).
None of the three are U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), although the U.S. Treasury Department in 2009 designated PJAK under a post-9/11 executive order, citing its links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is listed as an FTO.
In a statement on Thursday, the PDKI accused the “terrorist” IRGC of carrying out the attacks to “divert attention from the ongoing protests” and “to show its military strength.”
“Based on our experience of more than 40 years of struggle against this regime, we believe that achieving rights in Iran can be accomplished in two ways,” the PDKI said.
“First, by creating a wide and strong opposition whereby all citizens of Iran who want freedom and democracy, and especially the oppressed nations of Iran, join forces to pose a serious challenge to the regime,” it said. “Second, by peacefully overthrowing the regime and establishing a democratic and federal Iran, in which all the different nations of the country participate and have equal rights in all aspects.”