The Iraqi minister of defense pushed the debate with the Iranians over their provision of weapons to Shia militias one more step on Monday. Minister Abdul Qadir Obeidi indirectly confronted the Iranians, without naming them, with new findings that prove their involvement in the arming of Shia militias.
On Monday, state-owned al-Sabah published a statement by the minister in which he spoke of the capture of a certain type of rocket that was never found in militia-held caches until now:
Defense minister Abdul Qadir Mohammed Obeidi revealed that army troops found a 200-mm ground-to-ground rocket manufactured in 2007 during a search operation by the troops north of Basra. Obeidi told al-Sabah in an exclusive interview that, under international laws and norms, this kind of rocket can be traded only with the approval of parliaments and is used only at times of extreme necessity during wars … and wondered how this rocket entered the country. Obeidi added that this rocket can be launched only from a special platform and by specialized crews.
From what I read in Iraq’s two biggest newspapers, it seems that the government is trying to step up the rhetoric against Iranian interference in Iraq and to induce uproar among the Iraqi public. Azzaman had the following information about the found rocket, provided by “intelligence officials“:
The rocket was manufactured in 2007 in Iran and is called Falaq-1. Falaq-1 is a strategic missile of immense destruction power and was used by Hezbollah against Israel in the July 2006 war. … The sources mentioned that launching this type of rocket requires a crew of several people with advanced technological expertise. … The sources, who preferred to remain unnamed, said that if this rocket was launched at a target, it could obliterate an entire city and kill all of its inhabitants even if those numbered by the tens of thousands. … The same sources added that increasing the range of the rocket is not a complex process and can be done inside Iraq and clarified that the discovery of this strategic rocket in Basra poses a threat to security in Iraq and the Middle East. The sources expressed fear that large numbers of this rocket might have entered Iraq with crews to launch them. If that happens then we’d be on the brink of a domestic and regional security crisis.
The exclusivity of the first statement and the anonymity of the “intelligence sources” that provided the second indicate that the message is selective in choosing the target audience: primarily the Iranian government and, as an inevitable byproduct, the Iraqi public. Iraqi government officials seem to have exaggerated the material significance of the finding on purpose. They also realize that Western journalists and readers are very unlikely to buy these exaggerated statements — that’s irrelevant anyway since this is a conversation meant to be between only Baghdad and Tehran.
The minister of defense is of course no idiot when it comes to weapons and their uses and specifications. He knows that bigger rockets have occasionally been found or destroyed. He served in the former and new army and his old colleagues, including the ITM father, testify to his professionalism and knowledge. It is timing and attitude in Baghdad that decided the sudden intensification of the tone, not the caliber of the rockets.
I think the government in Baghdad is trying to say the following to its Iranian counterpart:
- The provision of small arms is one thing but the provision of heavy weapons that can cause panic and much more destruction is another.
- If we can accept that machine guns, RPGs, and mortars can be smuggled into Iraq without the Iranian government’s knowledge, we can’t accept the same claim when it comes to weapons of this magnitude.
- We know and you know that you’re providing these weapons and we can’t remain silent anymore. At the same time neither of us is going anywhere anytime soon, so we must learn to coexist. You don’t want us to be your enemies and we can’t afford to make you ours at the moment, so knock it off and let’s not show the world the dirty laundry.
The message is quite clear and simple. Baghdad sent a delegation last week to ask Iran to stop the flow of weapons and support to Shia militias. When the delegation returned empty-handed, the government immediately announced through spokesman Ali Dabbagh that it will work to collect and display evidence of this support. A day later the conversation escalated with the above statements. The question is: is Iran going to respond reasonably or is it going to keep denying its involvement in the crime? And if it does, I wonder what the next escalation in the conversation is going to look like.
Omar Fadhil is PJM Baghdad editor. His own blog is Iraq The Model.