Iraqi MP: Government probe shows Israel ‘certainly’ behind some recent strikes

Iraqi MP: Government probe shows Israel ‘certainly’ behind some recent strikes

Ahmad al-Assadi, member of parliamentary bloc representing pro-Iran militias, says Iraq readying to file complaint at the UN over series of drone attacks on paramilitary groups

Ahmad al-Assadi, an Iraqi parliamentarian and leading member of the Popular Mobilization Forces, speaks during an interview in Baghdad on August 29, 2019 (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)
Ahmad al-Assadi, an Iraqi parliamentarian and leading member of the Popular Mobilization Forces, speaks during an interview in Baghdad on August 29, 2019 (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s government is preparing a complaint to the UN after finding Israel is “certainly” behind several attacks on Popular Mobilization Force bases, a parliamentarian and leading member of the paramilitary force said.

The PMF has blamed both Israel and the US for a recent string of blasts and drone sightings at its bases, but until this week Baghdad had refrained from making direct accusations.

Ahmad al-Assadi, a PMF official and spokesman for the Fatah Coalition parliamentary bloc representing Iran-backed paramilitaries, told journalists on Thursday in his office in central Baghdad that government probes would name Israel.

“Some of the government investigations have reached a conclusion that the perpetrator behind some of the attacks is absolutely, certainly Israel,” he said, declining to provide details on the evidence.

“The government is preparing sufficient evidence and documents to complain to the [UN] Security Council. It won’t submit a complaint against an unknown entity.”

Popular Mobilization Forces members stand by a burning truck after a drone attack blamed on Israel near Qaim border crossing, in Anbar province, Iraq, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo)

The PMF was established in 2014 from mostly Shiite paramilitary groups and volunteers to fight the Islamic State jihadist organization and is now formally part of Iraq’s armed forces.

But the US and Israel fear some units are an extension of Iran and have been equipped with precision-guided missiles that could reach Israel.

Since mid-July, five PMF arms depots and training camps have been targeted in apparent attacks.

The group said it had also fired at surveillance drones over two other bases.

PMF top officials have said the US is broadly “responsible” but specifically blamed Israeli drones for the latest strike on Sunday, which killed a PMF fighter near Iraq’s western border with Syria.

The Pentagon has denied responsibility and said it is cooperating with Iraq’s investigations, but Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its role.

Assadi told reporters the US involvement remained unclear, dulling the group’s earlier accusations.

A picture taken on August 30, 2019, shows a billboard, installed by a militant faction belonging to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, on a main road in Baghdad bearing the slogan ‘Death to America and Israel,'” next to a picture of a helicopter carrying a coffin draped with the US flag. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

“Israeli planes supported by the US? We can’t make that accusation. Did America give a green light? We can’t make that accusation,” he said.

But, he added, the PMF had been expecting an attack amid rising US-Iranian tensions since Washington withdrew from the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran last year.

The US has since imposed tough sanctions on Iran’s top officials, its energy and financial sectors, as well as a host of Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian firms and people allegedly tied to Tehran.

“Are the attacks that happened surprising for the Iraqi government, the Hashed [PMF], or other factions? Of course not,” Assadi said.

“It’s clear. The Hashed is being specifically targeted.”

He did provide some details on the government probe into the August 13 blasts at the Saqr military base near Baghdad, where PMF fighters are based, and which Assadi said involved three drones.

“The first drone surveilled, the second attacked and the third took pictures of the base after the strike,” he said.

Losses for a single brigade there were estimated at a billion Iraqi dinars, or more than $800,000, the lawmaker added.

He denied allegations that long-range Iranian missiles were stored at the attacked sites and evaded an AFP question on the group’s role in transferring weapons to neighboring Syria.

Assadi, formerly the PMF’s spokesman and still a leader within the group, attended a meeting earlier this week between its top brass and Iraq’s president, premier and parliament speaker.

“We said in the meeting that the resistance factions are ready to respond now if the government wanted that. If you want a response in Iraq, against Israel, in any area,” said Assadi.

But he stressed the PMF would abide by the government’s policy of prioritizing diplomacy.

“The Hashed will not fire a single bullet or give a statement or issue a position if it’s not coordinated with the government,” Assadi added.

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

Assadi’s remarks came days after the Iraqi government for the first time accused Israel of being behind the airstrikes.

Baghdad did so in a statement condemning comments by Bahrain’s top diplomat, who described the alleged August 25 Israeli strike on the 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.

“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.

Foreign Minister Mohamad A. al-Hakim (Right) sits with the Charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Baghdad, Brian McFeeters after the latter was summoned on August 23, 2019. (Iraqi Foreign Ministry)

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.

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.

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