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The Iraq Report: Suspected Israeli airstrikes worry Iraqi politicians

Many parts of Iraq have been destroyed by war and conflict [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 August, 2019

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Iraq reacts to suspected Israeli airstrikes as the country's parliament demands extradition of Saddam Hussein's daughter from Jordan.
Israel has featured heavily in Iraq-related political events this week as suspected airstrikes on Iran-backed Shia militia targets have caused jitters in Baghdad.

Fearful of an increased Israeli presence over Iraqi skies, Baghdad has taken measures it will almost certainly find itself unable to enforce without American acquiescence and assistance.

This will almost certainly mean that Israel will once again play a role in securing its interests in the country whether Iraq wants it to or not.

Parliamentarians have also called on neighbouring Jordan to extradite numerous figures connected to the former dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, including the late strongman's daughter Raghad Hussein.

The Iraqi government is concerned about other Iraqis living in Jordan, many of whom are not Baathist but are considered threatening opposition figures nevertheless due to their enmity to the US-installed and Iran-backed post-Saddam order.

Iraq reacts to suspected Israeli strikes

In the space of less than a month, three strikes on Iran-linked groups in Iraq has led many to believe that none other than the Israelis are behind the attacks.

The first attack occurred a month ago at the al-Shuhada military base near Amerli in Iraq's northern Salahuddin governorate.

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Reports suggest that an armed drone struck an Iranian ballistic missile shipment heading to Syria that was being concealed in trucks used to transport refrigerated food. One Iraqi and two Iranians were said to have been killed in that strike.

The second attack occurred at the end of July, this time striking Iranian targets in Camp Ashraf near the Iranian border and just 40 kilometres northeast of Baghdad. Iranian "military advisers" and ballistic missiles that had just arrived in Iraq from Iran were targeted.

The third attack occurred last week in the Iraqi capital itself with the al-Saqr military base being the primary target, killing one person and wounding 29 others.

Al-Saqr is in the southwest of Baghdad and is controlled by the Iran-backed, but Iraq-sanctioned quasi-official Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella force of several pro-Iran mostly Shia militias.

While Iraqi officials have suggested state-of-the-art Israeli F-35s were used to conduct all three of these strikes, an analysis published by The New Arab shows that there is a high likelihood that Israel would have instead preferred to deploy long-range drones.

Due to the flight distances involved from airbases in Israel to targets in Iraq, F-35s would struggle to complete such missions without mid-flight refuelling. However, Israel would definitely have an interest in striking groups and targets connected to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as they often use Iraq as a forward military operating base.

Israel would definitely have an interest in striking groups and targets connected to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as they often use Iraq as a forward military operating base

Iraq is often also used by the IRGC as a distribution hub to transfer arms, including ballistic missiles, to the Lebanese Hizballah, Yemen's Houthi rebels, and the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi ordered the suspension of all licenses for foreign military aircraft to use Iraqi airspace late last week, a move believed to be linked to the alleged Israeli strikes against IRGC-linked targets.

"Any planes moving in violation [of this decision] will immediately be dealt with as enemy planes by air defences", the Iraqi Joint Operations Command statement said, adding that a full investigation would now take place into the al-Saqr incident.

However, it is clear Tel Aviv sought no permission to strike these targets in Iraq and would never do so even if Baghdad demanded it, much as it conducts airstrikes in Syria against other Iranian targets.

Also, the Iraqi government will find it impossible to enforce its own rules over its airspace as Iraq lacks its own early warning detection systems and its anti-air defences are sparse and lack the capability to intercept advanced aircraft like those used by the Israeli Air Force.

Iraq has relied almost exclusively on the United States for air defence, with Washington even providing close air support missions to pro-Iran Shia militias as they battled Islamic State (IS) militants. Without the White House's approval, it is highly unlikely Iraq will be able to curtail Israeli designs.

Sadr slams IS Yazidi survivors for Israel trip

Iraq's hardline Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – whose bloc won last year's elections – has laid into the Yazidi minority community, accusing them of fleeing into "the arms of Israel".

Sadr's comments come after a Yazidi delegation, led by Nobel laureate and former IS sex slave Nadia Murad, visited Israel in July, sparking general fury and outrage across Iraq.

Sadr said that while IS extremism was dangerous and the Yazidi's had every right to seek to escape them, they should not have fled into "the arms of Israel" which he said also represented "extreme liberalism".

The fundamentalist cleric appeared to suggest that Iraq's half a million Yazidis were being used by Israel and other Western powers as a vehicle to inject liberal ideologies into the largely conservative and traditional Iraqi society by taking advantage of the tragedy they suffered at IS' hands.

Apart from recent Israeli actions in Iraq, Iraqis have a generally negative outlook about Israel due to its occupation of Palestine and its collaboration with its apparent sworn enemy Iran in several instances during the Iran-Iraq War, such as the Iran-Contra scandal that almost brought down the Reagan administration when it was uncovered.

The Yazidis were targeted by IS and branded "devil worshippers" which the radical militants used as an excuse to justify the sexual enslavement of thousands of Yazidi women and girls, and the mass slaughter of many men and boys.

Of the more than 6,400 Yazidi girls who were forced into sexual slavery, only half have managed to escape or be rescued, while the fates of the remaining women is still unknown.

Iraq demands Jordan extradites Saddam's daughter

The Iraqi parliament demanded last Wednesday that neighbouring Jordan hand over, among others, the daughter of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

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According to reports, Iraqi lawmakers have made these demands as Iraqi opposition groups continue to organise and mobilise from the Jordanian capital of Amman. While Saddam's daughter, Raghad Hussein, has been known to occasionally write or speak against the way her father has been remembered, she is not known to be politically active.

Jordanian authorities responded by rejecting "any political blackmail attempt that targets the political sovereignty of Jordan" after lawmakers suggested Prime Minister Mahdi could use bilateral trade and oil sales as a tool to pressure Amman's acquiescence.

Iraqi politicians have accused opposition groups of being "Baathists", remnants of the former regime, and of financing militant outfits inside Iraq. However, while some certainly are openly Baathist, many are also comprised of other nationalists, former officers, secularists, and even some Islamists.

Ironically, many of these same politicians calling for the extradition of Raghad Hussein and other political opposition figures were themselves living in exile while Saddam was in power. They operated opposition parties and lobby groups in Iran, Syria, the US, UK, and Europe.

Some of these politicians, particularly those belonging to Shia Islamist parties like the Dawa Party, were wanted in connection with numerous attacks conducted against American targets, including the attack on the US embassy in Kuwait in 1983.

While Washington has seemingly decided to forgive or forget these attacks, Baghdad is unwilling to tolerate opposition groups holding conferences in cities such as Amman or Istanbul to discuss political action for change in Iraq.

However, while the Iraqi government has great domestic power augmented by Iranian support and can repress its own internal political dissidents, it lacks the capabilities to project power or political pressure on even neighbours as small as Jordan.

On the one hand, Iraq can threaten Jordan with a reduction in oil supplies. However, this would be entirely untenable and unsustainable as the Iraqi economy is in tatters, and city after city requires hundreds of billions of dollars in reconstruction costs alone after they were decimated in the fight against IS.

Iraq is therefore highly unlikely to achieve the surrender of political dissidents who live in Jordan, Turkey, and other countries in the Arabian Peninsula, and they will certainly be unable to do so without American support which will not be forthcoming.

The Iraq Report is a fortnightly feature at The New Arab.

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