Can Iran threaten US interests from Iraqi territories?

Iran has established a strong military foundation among its allies in Iraq, which allows it to threaten the United States and its allies everywhere in Iraq and neighboring countries.

al-monitor Shiite fighters cover their ears as a rocket is launched during a clash with Islamic State militants, al-Alam, Iraq, March 9, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani.

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armed factions, muqtada al-sadr, riyadh, tehran, tel aviv, shiites, ballistic missiles

Sep 7, 2018

Reuters’ recent article on Iran moving ballistic missiles to Iraq created a buzz in Arab and international media over the seriousness of the information.

Reuters quoted on Aug. 31 three Iranian officials, two Iraqi intelligence sources and two Western intelligence sources as saying that “Tehran has given ballistic missiles to Shiite proxies in Iraq.”

“Iran is developing the capacity to build more [missiles in Iraq] to deter attacks on its interests in the Middle East and to give it the means to hit regional foes,” the article reported.

Such an Iranian move would cause great harm to Iraq, which is trying to restore its diplomatic relations with neighboring countries. This is particularly true when it comes to the Gulf states, with which Iraq has had many differences since the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990 — but the relationship has since slightly improved.

However, a day after the Reuters article was published, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasimi denied all claims about sending ballistic missiles to Iraq. “Such false and ridiculous news only aims to ruin Iran's foreign relations, especially with its neighbors,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry noted in a statement how “shocked” it was at the information mentioned in the Reuters article.

Iranian officials often threaten to target Israel as the closest US ally in the Middle East. According to Reuters, these ballistic missiles could reach the Israeli city of Tel Aviv or Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, another key US ally in the region.

Some Iraqi armed factions close to Iran mocked these claims, referring to them as an illogical “myth” since such missiles are too large and “require huge warehouses that only official armies have,” according to Hassan Salem, a leader of the Sadikun bloc affiliated with Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

A security adviser to the Iraqi government told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that he completely agrees with the armed factions and rules out that possibility of Iran giving them such missiles.

“Iran cannot be involved in giving such missiles to armed factions. Such action could complicate the Western position, which is against Iran’s military industry. It could also raise US anger if Iran were to take such action in Iraq,” he said.

However, Hakem al-Zameli, a leader of the Sadrist movement, did not categorically deny the arrival of such missiles to Iraqi armed factions affiliated with Iran.

Zameli, who headed the security committee in the previous parliament, told Al-Monitor, “I do not believe such missiles arrived in Iraq, but at the same time I cannot categorically deny it.”

He added, “The Sadrist movement, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, is keeping a close eye on any action of the sort; we do not accept this given the impact it would have on Iraqi security.”

If Iran wants to threaten US allies from Iraqi territory, it can do so without using ballistic missiles. A number of Iran-affiliated armed factions have already threatened to strike Saudi Arabia when Iran wanted to play this card.

Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi security expert at Al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies, stressed how these armed factions are indeed capable of striking Saudi Arabia from Iraqi territory if they want to.

Hashemi, known for being close to Iraqi security services, explained the map of manufacturing and distributing weapons to the armed factions in Iraq.

“Camps that manufacture short-range missiles like Katyusha (a multiple rocket launcher) were first established in Iraq in July 2014,” he told Al-Monitor.

Hashemi said these factories could be divided into three categories, two of which produce certain types of missiles, and he noted that “Iranian medium-range missiles — such as the Battar, Qaher, Mahdi, Zulfiqar and Karrar missiles — are also assembled [in Iraq] by Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah."

Hashemi said, “These missiles can pose a threat to Al-Asad air base and Habbaniyah air base where US advisers are staying, in addition to threatening Jordan and Saudi Arabia."

He noted that the second category of missiles “is made out of the scrap and remnants of the [Iraq War] between 2003 and 2011, remnants of the weapons used by the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, and scrap from the Baath regime's weapons in the Taji area of Baghdad.”

Hashemi added, “These factories are affiliated with the Badr Organization led by Hadi al-Amiri, and most of the large factions and the Iraqi government are very much aware of these factories.”

“The missiles produced in these factories are rudimentary,” the security adviser noted, adding, “The danger these missiles pose threatens Jordanian and Saudi border bases and cities."

Although the security adviser said Iran “is acting freely in Iraq and does not need ballistic missiles,” Zameli stressed that “it is precisely known that in the event of a confrontation with the United States, Iran can introduce such ballistic missiles within hours to Iraq.”

Controversy over Iranian ballistic missiles in Iraq shows how deep Iranian influence in Iraq is. This requires a serious Iraqi stand to determine the relationship with Iran so as not to harm Iraqi interests and prevent any infringement of sovereignty.

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