The Iraqi government accused Israel for the first time Wednesday night of being behind an attack on a powerful Iran-backed paramilitary force in its territory earlier this week.
Baghdad did so in a statement condemning comments by Bahrain’s top diplomat, who described the alleged August 25 Israeli strike on the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) near the Iraqi-Syrian border as self-defense, as well as other strikes on Iranian and Iran-backed militias’ installations in Syria and Lebanon in recent days.
A string of PMF bases across Iraq have been hit by explosions and drone sightings over the past five weeks which the Iran-backed force has blamed on Israel and the US. However, until now the country’s government did not name the alleged perpetrators.
On Monday, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa appeared to back Israel after the PMF and Lebanese President Michel Aoun both said that the respective strikes on their countries were a “declaration of war” by the Jewish state.
On Twitter, Khalifa said: “Iran is the one who has declared a war on us, with its Revolutionary Guards Corps, its Lebanese party [Hezbollah in Lebanon], its Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, its Houthi arm in Yemen and others.
“So one who strikes and destroys the piles of their ammunition is not to blame. That is self-defense,” he added.
The comments prompted a sharp response from the Iraqi foreign ministry in an online statement late Wednesday.
“The foreign ministry rejects and condemns the Bahraini foreign minister’s tweet about the recent attacks on Arab territories and the Popular Mobilization Forces by Zionist enemy under the pretext of self-defense,” it wrote.
A statement by the Iraqi presidency earlier this week did not blame Israel, merely saying Baghdad was investigating “indications of foreign involvement.”
Ties between Iraq and Bahrain have been strained in recent months, with demonstrators swarming the Bahraini embassy in Baghdad in June to protest Manama’s hosting of a US-led conference focused on improving Palestinian economy.
A few months prior, Iraq had demanded a formal apology from Bahrain’s foreign minister for a tweet about firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that Baghdad deemed “offensive.”
Khalifa’s comment had been the latest public show of support from the unconventional Gulf diplomat, who has broken longstanding taboos by meeting publicly with Israeli officials and giving interviews to Israeli media outlets.
In May 2018, Khalifa tweeted that Israel had the right to defend itself, after Iran-backed groups shot some 20 rockets at northern Israel from Syria.
When Bahrain recently hosted the economic summit for the Palestinians, billed as part of Washington’s forthcoming peace plan, Khalifa gave an interview to The Times of Israel, saying his country recognizes Israel’s right to exist and wants peace with it.
Regional tensions have shot up in recent days after Israel carried out airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-backed fighters in Syria to thwart what it said was a plot to fly explosives-laden drones into the country.
Jerusalem has also been blamed for an airstrike in Lebanon, prompting Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to give a fiery speech Sunday in which he vowed revenge.