New Strikes Bring Iraq To The Middle Of Israel-Iran Showdown

New airstrikes were launched Sunday against Iran-aligned militias in several Iraqi cities, raising fears about Iraq arriving at the middle of the ongoing showdown between Iran, on one hand, and the US and Israel, on the other.

Unidentified fighter jets attacked a military base on Sunday for Iranian-backed militias near an airfield west of the western province of Anbar, leaving no casualties behind.

Hours later, there was another attack on a camp in the northern city of Fallujah. The camp serves as a base for the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, according to media reports.

The two attacks came only four days after a company owned by the forces near Iraq’s joint border with Syria were attacked with drones. Five people were killed and nine others wounded, according to an Iraqi security source.

The attacks mainly targeted, the source added, militias that operated near the Syrian city of Al Bukamal.

Repeated attacks against militias loyal to Iran in Iraq highlight the role these militias play in regional conflicts as well as Iraq’s possible response. Most of the attacks launched against the militias in the past months were blamed on Israel, even as Tel Aviv rarely claims responsibility for them.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to target Iran’s arms everywhere. The Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella group for 67 Iraqi militias and paramilitary groups, have recently unveiled a plan to form an air force.

A September 4 document by the group reveals that the formation of the air force aims to make the Iran-backed militia more effective in the fight against terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). On June 13, 2014, Iraq’s top clerics issued an edict in which they sanctioned jihad (holy war) against terrorist organisations.

The potential formation of an air force by the Popular Mobilisation Forces may be a reflection of how political forces dominating the scene in Iraq envisage the future of their country.

The same forces view Iraq only from a sectarian prism and along sectarian lines, ones that need a powerful military to keep them intact.

Nevertheless, this is not only about Iraq. The Popular Mobilisation Forces have turned into an arm of Iran in the region. True, they mainly operate in Iraq, but their loyalties are totally outside the restive Arab state.

The forces have emerged as an important player in the ongoing showdown between Iran, on one hand, and the US and Israel, on the other. The latest attacks on two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia with drones that were believed to have either taken off from Iraq or used Iraqi airspace prove this view to be true.

In May 2019, Saudi Arabia was attacked by drones that were believed to have taken off from Iraq as well. The Popular Mobilization Forces attacked the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad on June 27. On July 19, 2019, Iran’s top mullah, Ali Khamenei, held a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran with the commanders of all the Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

The meeting, according to Iraqi media, focused on repeated Israeli attacks against these militias. The militia leaders also listened to what Khamenei had to say about how these militias should respond. Whether there will be a response from the militias to the attacks is something that will be seen in the coming days.

The sure thing still is that the Iraqi government finds itself caught in the middle of this showdown, whether it likes it or not. On June 26, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said his country would take firm action in response to repeated Israeli attacks inside his country. But this adds to the burdens of Iraq, a country that still recovers from the shock of ISIS presence in it.