Ex-Iraqi PM warns Israel of ‘strong response’ if it proves to be behind strikes
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Ex-Iraqi PM warns Israel of ‘strong response’ if it proves to be behind strikes

Nouri al-Maliki says continued attacks will turn country into ‘battle arena that drags in multiple countries, including Iran’

File: Vice President of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki in St.Petersburg, Russia, July 25, 2017. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
File: Vice President of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki in St.Petersburg, Russia, July 25, 2017. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday warned Israel of a “strong response” if it proved to be behind the recent airstrikes against Iranian-linked military targets in Iraq.

In statements issued by his office, al-Maliki also said that if Israel continues to target Iraq, his country “will transform into a battle arena that drags in multiple countries, including Iran.”

The comments by al-Maliki, a former Iraqi prime minister known for his ties to Iran, came hours after US officials told The New York Times Israel was responsible for the bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month.

The Times report quoted two senior US officials as saying Israel has recently carried out “several strikes” on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.

A senior Middle Eastern intelligence official said Israel was also responsible for the July 19 strike on a military base north of Baghdad being used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to transport weapons to Syria.

In this August 12, 2019, photo, plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

The official said this Israeli strike was launched from inside Iraq, though he did not provide further details. He said it destroyed a cache of guided missiles with a range of 200 kilometers (125 miles).

Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian targets in neighboring Syria, but an expansion of the campaign to Iraq would mark a significant escalation in its years-long campaign against Tehran’s military entrenchment across the region.

The mystery attacks have not been claimed by any side and have left Iraqi officials scrambling for a response, amid strong speculation that Israel may have been behind them. Earlier this week, the deputy head of the Iraqi Shiite militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, openly accused Israeli drones of carrying out the attacks, but ultimately blamed Washington and threatened strong retaliation for any future attack.

Satellite photo of a weapons depot in southern Baghdad controlled by a pro-Iranian militia that was hit in an alleged Israeli operation on August 12, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Such attacks are potentially destabilizing for Iraq and its fragile government, which has struggled to remain neutral amid growing tensions between the United States and Iran.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other lawmakers have indicated the speculation of Israeli involvement was true.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on July 23, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

“I don’t give Iran immunity anywhere,” he said during an interview with a Russian-language TV station on Thursday, accusing the Iranians of trying to establish bases “against us everywhere,” including Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.

Asked whether that means Israel is operating in Iraq, Netanyahu said: “We act in many arenas against a country that desires to annihilate us. Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed to thwart these plans of Iran.”

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