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Iraqi Kurdish tycoon’s home in ruins after Iran strike

IRBIL, IRAQ (AP) – Once a lavish mansion, the sprawling home of an Iraqi Kurdish oil tycoon was laid to waste in a barrage of missiles that struck near a United States (US) consulate complex in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil earlier this week.

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said it launched the attack last Sunday, firing off 12 cruise missiles at what it described as a “strategic centre” of the Israeli spy agency Mossad – in retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two of the Iranian paramilitary force’s members the previous week.

CEO of the Iraqi Kurdish oil company KAR group Baz Karim Barzinji denies any links to Mossad. The missiles gutted his home but he said he is grateful his family was unharmed.

The consulate was undamaged and no injuries were reported in the attack. The US said it did not believe it was the target. But the barrage marked a significant escalation between the US and Iran. Hostility between the longtime foes has often played out in Iraq, whose government is allied with both countries.

Barzinji pointed to a large crater where once his home office stood as he took the Associated Press on a tour of the ruins on Friday. The tycoon, his wife and two teenage children were visiting a nearby farm when the attack took place, he said.

“This is my family house, all the photos and our belongings” were here, he said. “It was horrifying.”

A house damaged by an Iranian ballistic missile attack is seen in Irbil, Iraq. PHOTO: AP

His daughter, Ban Karim, recounts how she huddled in the garden with the family pets as the thundering missiles whizzed overhead. “We do not know if they can see us, we do not know if they are drones, we do not know anything about ballistics, what is going to happen right now,” she said.

Iraq’s northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region maintains discreet links to Israel through the selling of its oil. Barzinji’s KAR group built and operates the export pipeline to Ceyhan in Turkey through a joint venture with Russia’s Rosneft.

“It is clearly non-sense, what the Iranians are talking about. This can be anything but an Israeli base,” an Iraqi Kurdish political analyst Hiwa Osman said of Barzanji’s villa.

An Iraqi intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the attack, also rejected claims the house was an Israeli spy centre, adding it was a place where diplomats often held social gatherings.

The attack was Iran’s first assault on Iraqi soil since the January 2020 missile strike on Ain al-Assad air base housing US forces, which was in retaliation for the US drone strikes that killed a top Iranian general.

“This is a message (by Iran) to their base, their people. They needed to boost their morale because they have been humiliated for a long time,” said an associate fellow with the Washington Institute who specialises in Shiite militias Hamdi Malik.

Malik believes the attack was carefully plotted to minimise casualties and cause no direct harm to US interests – but also sent a message amid stalled nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna: next time could be bigger, and more dangerous.