In what some are calling a “significant escalation” of tensions in the Middle East, U.S. officials confirmed that the Israelis were responsible for bombing Iranian military bases and weapons depots in Iraq.
“I don’t give Iran immunity anywhere,” the Israeli leader said, adding that the Iranians are trying to establish bases “against us everywhere,” including Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.
“We act in many arenas against a country that desires to annihilate us,” he said in response whether Israel operates in Iraq. “Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed to thwart these plans of Iran.”
Naturally, the Iraqis blame the U.S. and it seems unlikely that Netanyahu would have blindsided his friend Donald Trump by not telling him about the raid beforehand.
The raid occurred on July 19 and targeted a militia base in northern Iraq. The base was reported to be occupied by several Iraqi militias with deep ties to Iran. Two Iranian commanders were killed in the attack.
The raid exacerbated tensions between Iraq and the United States, with several prominent Iraqi politicians calling for a withdrawal of all U.S. forces.
The confirmation coincided with an edict from Grand Ayatollah Kazem Haeri, a powerful Iraqi cleric based in Iran who is thought to be a mentor to some of Iraq’s top militia leaders. He blamed both Israel and the U.S. for the attack and proscribed American troops’ presence in Iraq.
“I declare it is forbidden for any American military force or its ilk to remain in Iraq under any pretext: whether for military training and advising, or for counter-terrorism,” Haeri said in a statement issued from the Iranian city of Qom.
Haeri’s statement followed similar condemnations from the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi (better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis), who accused U.S. forces on Wednesday of conducting reconnaissance on Hashd bases and bringing in Israeli drones for the strikes.
There are about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq involved in training Iraqi military forces and securing the U.S. embassy. It’s believed that the ayatollah’s fatwa may give free rein to Iranian sympathizers to target Americans in Iraq.
This is the first time Israel has extended its war against Iran into Iraq. The Shia-dominated government headed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is in a very difficult position. Those militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces are only nominally controlled by the government and it’s almost certain that Iraq has very little say in what happens at those militia bases.
Mahdi must defend his country’s sovereignty.
Iraq’s national security council, which is headed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, issued a statement Friday saying that the Hashd had a “prominent role in combating terror,” and that the government had a responsibility to protect it, along with all of Iraq’s military formations.
Earlier this month, Abdul Mahdi had prohibited all military flights, both foreign and Iraqi, from using Iraqi airspace without permission.
This call for a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq is not new, and not going to happen. Iraq will not throw it’s most powerful friend under the bus no matter what the fanatics say.
But Iran would be perfectly willing to use their Iraqi stooges to strike at both the U.S. and Israel. That’s what makes this such an incendiary situation with unpredictable outcomes for Israel. Netanyahu is aware of this, but may find himself forced into action if those militias threaten Israel.