US says drones from Iraq were fired at Saudi pipeline, as military build up continues
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — The US has concluded that drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities last month came from southern Iraq and not from Yemen as initially thought, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
On May 14, two pumping stations along Saudi Arabia’s East-West pipeline—which carries crude oil to its Red Sea port of Yanbu and provides an alternative route for oil exports in the event of threats to shipping in the Persian Gulf—were attacked.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility at the time, but US officials said those drone attacks were “more sophisticated” than earlier assaults from Houthi forces, the Journal explained.
“Wreckage from the attacks showed that the drones were of a different model, and the explosives were of a different kind,” it continued.
In the meanwhile, the build-up of US forces in the region is continuing.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on Friday that nearly a dozen F-22 Raptor planes had arrived the day before at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. It is the first time that such aircraft, which can serve as both fighters and attack planes, have been deployed to Qatar.
Since 2002, Qatar has hosted the main US air base in the Middle East, and some 10,000 US forces are now based there. Aircraft from Al Udeid carry out missions not only in Iraq and Syria, but as far away as Afghanistan, some 1800 kilometers (1120 miles) from their base in Qatar.
Iraqi officials have vowed they will not let Iraqi territory be used to attack Iran, the Journal noted. But the US has no need to use Iraqi territory, both because of its substantial naval forces in the region and its presence in Al Udeid.
It is unclear when US authorities first concluded that the drone attacks on the Saudi pipeline were launched from Iraq, rather than Yemen, but already on June 14, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue in a phone conversation with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mehdi.
The US believes that Iranian proxy forces in southern Iraq were responsible. One such group, Kata’ib Hezbollah, was reportedly behind the storming of Bahrain’s Baghdad embassy on Thursday in protest of a conference held there on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, promoted by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Word that US intelligence had concluded that the drone attacks were launched from Iraq first emerged in Baghdad. Already on Tuesday, during his weekly news conference, Iraq’s Prime Minister disclosed the US allegation, as Al Jazeera reported, but he vowed that it could not be true, as the Iraqi military would have detected the drones, he stated.
"All of our intelligence services and our air force denied these reports because the airspace is known," Abdul Mehdi said.
Earlier this week, Trump made clear that if the US were to attack Iran, the assault would take the form of an aerial bombing campaign.
On Friday, as CENTCOM announced the arrival of yet more aircraft in the region, the Russian news service, Sputnik, reported that it had been informed that Moscow was prepared to deliver its most advanced air defense system, the S-400, to Iran, although it had not yet received a request for such a system from Tehran.