Iraqi PM blames Israel for spate of airstrikes targeting Iran-linked fighters

Adel Abdul Mahdi says investigation indicates Jerusalem behind recent strikes on bases, weapon depots belonging to powerful Shiite militias; IDF declines to comment

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)
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)

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Monday that investigations have determined the recent spate of airstrikes targeting powerful Iranian-backed militias in Iraq were carried out by Israel.

“Investigations into the targeting of some Popular Mobilization Forces positions indicate that Israel carried it out,” Abdul Mahdi told Al Jazeera, marking the first time Baghdad has directly blamed the Jewish state for the strikes.

The Qatari-funded TV network also quoted him as saying that “many indicators show that no one wants war in the region except for Israel,” according to a translation by the Reuters news agency.

A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the statements from the Iraqi premier, saying “these are reports from foreign media and we do not comment on them.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi speaks to the media at a news conference during a visit to Ankara, Turkey, May 15, 2019. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

Since July, there have been at least nine strikes both inside Iraq and across the border in Syria, targeting the Iran-backed militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF.

Leaders of the powerful Shiite paramilitary group have repeatedly blamed Israel and by extension its US ally, which maintains more than 5,000 troops in Iraq.

Israel has not confirmed its involvement in the attacks, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted at the possibility that it has struck in Iraq.

Israel views Iran as its greatest threat, and has acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes in Syria in recent years aimed primarily at preventing the transfers of sophisticated weapons, including guided missiles, to the Iran-backed, Lebanese  Hezbollah terror group.

This quiet war has reportedly expanded to Iraq in recent weeks, with unnamed US officials saying the Israel Defense Forces was behind at least some strikes on Iran-linked sites in Iraq.

Illustrative: 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 latest strike on Iranian militias came Friday night, when an unmanned aerial vehicle reportedly struck PMF bases along the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Shiite fighters in the Boukamal region responded with anti-aircraft fire, according to local media. There were no reported casualties.

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV network has reported that Hezbollah also maintains a presence in the Boukamal region.

Despite the weekend strike, a nearby border crossing between Syria and Iraq that was shuttered in 2012 during the Syrian civil war reopened on Monday, giving Iranian forces easier access to eastern Syria amid soaring tensions with the West.

The key crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria’s Boukamal was expected to strengthen trade between the two countries, and officials touted its reopening as a “victory for Syrian and Iraqi friendship.”

Iraqi and Syrian border guards soldiers congratulate each other during the opening ceremony of the crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria’s Boukamal in Anbar province, Iraq, September 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Some 800 freight trucks are expected to cross from Syria, Syria’s state news agency said.

Syria and Iraq have three key border crossings between them, with Boukamal, the only one controlled by Assad’s government. The second one is controlled by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, while the third crossing, the nearby Tanf, is held by US-backed Syrian rebels.

AP contributed to this report.

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