Erbil, Iraq — An explosion Friday struck near the U.S. consulate in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.
Kurdish government sources tell The Daily Beast that at least four people were killed and eight wounded in the attack. They did not confirm the nationality of the dead. Other U.S. news outlets have reported differing casualty counts. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero quotes local witnesses who said there were two Westerners wounded in the attack.
A spokesman for the military’s CENTCOM, which is in charge of operations in Iraq, said on Friday afternoon: “I have no reports of U.S. military casualties.”
The explosion appears to have been caused by a suicide bomber either travelling on foot or driving a vehicle rigged with a bomb. Though it occurred in the heavily guarded area of Erbil near the U.S. consulate, it’s not clear exactly what the attack was targeting. There are several popular restaurants and security checkpoints a short distance from the consulate.
The extent of damage to the consulate has not yet been confirmed but the destruction caused by the blast shows clearly in the row of cafés and bistros across the street.
Despite the brutal war against ISIS raging in other parts of Iraq, attacks of this type have been rare in Erbil and other parts of the Kurdish region where many American officials live and work.
The State Department said no U.S. personnel were killed in the blast, which it said was caused by a "vehicle-borne improvised explosive device" that went off right outside the entrance to the heavily guarded compound. Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran and Iraq, stated on Twitter that “all chief of Mission personnel” had been accounted for and were uninjured.
At 10 am this morning, less than eight hours before the attack, approximately a dozen Americans were seen congregating in the Barista coffee shop near the site of explosion. The café is a popular hangout for Westerners living in Erbil. It is located in the city’s Ankawa district, which has long been a hub for Westerners and is home Kurdistan’s Christian community.
A checkpoint manned by Kurdish security forces, known as Peshmerga, was located across the street from the café and typically manned by three or four armed guards.
No cause for the attack has yet been identified but it’s presumed to have been carried out by the self-declared Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Some prominent ISIS supporters have already begun claiming credit for the attack online.
Earlier today, less than one hour before the explosion, according to one local account, reports emerged that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri had been killed. Al-Douri was a former top deputy under Saddam Hussein, who became an ISIS ally, uniting other former members of Iraq’s Baath party with the Islamist group in a coalition targeting the Iraqi government and civilian groups.