ANALYSIS: Iraq Is the New Battleground for Iran and Israel

By Ahmad Rafat

Israel has opened a new front in its war against Iran. After Lebanon and Syria, the conflict between the two countries has now spread to Iraq.

There have been a series of military attacks in recent months by unknown forces against the Iraqi state-sponsored Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The PMF comprised 40 Shia militia groups operating under the auspices of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force (IRGC-QF).

On July 19, a drone strike on the Al-Shuhada military base in the Amerli region near the Iraq-Syria border destroyed a large weapons cache and killed a senior IRGC-QF commander, Abolfazl Sarabian. Another explosion on August 12 severely damaged a PMF ammunition depot in southern Iraq. A few weeks earlier, on July 29, an airstrike destroyed sections of the Montazir al-Mohamadawi military base north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

[aesop_image img=”” panorama=”off” credit=”Quds Day 31 May 2019, Baghdad, Iraq. Source: Kayhan London” align=”center” lightbox=”on” captionsrc=”custom” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

The camp was named after Abou Montazir al-Mohamadawi, a senior commander in the Badr Brigades who died in the Iraqi city of Fallujah during a battle with ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) forces in 2015. The military base, previously known as Camp Ashraf, was home to the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MKO) from 2003 to 2012.

According to the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Israeli F-35 fighter jets carried out all three attacks. The spokesman for the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee Mohammad Reza Al-Haidar told Kayhan Life that there was no evidence that hot temperatures had caused the explosions, as suggested by the Iraqi government spokesman, and added: “It is, however, unclear who was responsible for the airstrikes.”

“The Islamic Republic and its proxy militias are threatening peace and stability in Iraq,” Hamed Rashid, an Iraqi journalist based in Baghdad, told Kayhan Life. “It is, therefore, not surprising to see the Israeli and U.S. military responding to the PMF’s operations carried out under the command of Ghasem Soleimani [head of the IRGC-QF].”

According to Mr. Rashid, several Shia militias under the PMF umbrella — including the Badr Brigades, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (Khazali Network) and Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) — have carried out several attacks against the U.S. and Western interests in Iraq last year.

“They started their operations by launching a series of mortar attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone on September 7, 8 and 27 of last year,” Rashid said. “On June 18 and 19, militia groups carried out simultaneous attacks on an oil facility near Basra where several American engineers worked, and on the Balad Air Base where the U.S. military technicians worked with Iraqi Air Force.”

“We have also seen a marked increase in roadside bombs targeting convoys of U.S. vehicles carrying equipment,” Rashid noted. “There have been at least three roadside bomb explosions in recent weeks involving U.S. Embassy cars and vehicles carrying European oil engineers and technicians.”

“Between 2003 and 2009, more than 600 members of the U.S. military died in roadside bomb explosions. The Islamic Republic is the main supplier of these bombs to Iraqi Shia militias,” Rashid pointed out. “The recent bombing attacks have severely affected ordinary Iraqi citizens who have been living in relative peace and stability after the defeat of the ISIS.”

According to Rashid, the Iraqi government is extremely concerned about the Islamic Republic and the IRGC-QF Commander Ghasem Soleimani’s meddling in the country’s affairs.

Rashid explained: “The move by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to dismantle the PMF was aimed at preventing Iraq from getting caught between the Islamic Republic and the U.S. and its allies. We do not want our country to become another proxy of Iran in its war with the U.S. and Israel. On July 1, Mr. Abdul-Mahdi gave the PMF one month to either assimilate into the Iraqi military or lay down its arms and become a political organization and abide by the country’s laws regulating the activities of all political parties.”

The PMF did not, however, meet the deadline of July 31, which suggests the group did not take Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi’s directive seriously. It is also abundantly clear that the Iraqi government cannot disarm or dismantle the PMF, which continues to enjoy the support of the Islamic Republic.

[aesop_image img=”” panorama=”off” credit=”Quds Day 31 May 2019, Baghdad, Iraq. Source: Kayhan London” align=”center” lightbox=”on” captionsrc=”custom” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]