ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim on Friday summoned the charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Baghdad, Brian McFeeters, amid alleged US involvement in recent apparent Israeli drone strikes on Iran-backed militia bases in Iraq.
The two diplomats reviewed “bilateral relations between Baghdad and Washington,” and “ways to strengthen them,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. They also discussed the “latest developments” in the region in addition to issues “related to intelligence and military cooperation and the fight against terrorism per Iraq’s priorities,” it added.
In recent months, Israel has reportedly targeted four ammunition depots operated by Iran-backed paramilitary groups within the Hashd al-Shaabi militias, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Those struck in the attacks are some of the armed groups most heavily supplied with advanced weaponry and training by Iran, the regional archrival of Israel.
The deputy chief of the PMF, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, on Wednesday claimed that US forces had transported four Israeli drones to be stored in US bases and used for targeting PMF facilities in illicit operations.
Muhandis stated the militias would consider aircraft whose flights were not authorized by Baghdad and flying over PMF bases as hostile and respond “appropriately.” A day later, one PMF militia group claimed to have “foiled” the mission of a drone flying over one of their facilities near the Iraqi capital, though did not say that they had destroyed it.
The incident marked another point in an ongoing indirect conflict between Israel and Iran. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted on multiple occasions that his country was behind the attacks, claiming on Thursday that he instructed his military to “do anything necessary to thwart Iran’s plans.”
Hakim stressed during the meeting with the US diplomat that “Iraq is not an arena for conflict and difference, but for building and development.” He stressed to McFeeters that the US should stick to “the terms of the strategic partnership agreement with Iraq in security and economic spheres.”
“Iraq and its government place all diplomatic and legal options at the forefront of its priorities to prevent any external interference in its internal affairs and to safeguard the security and sovereignty of Iraq and its people,” the foreign minister said.
Iraq and Israel now hold no diplomatic, socio-cultural, or economic ties.
The Iraqi government has not officially stated that Israel or the US were involved in the incidents. The PMF chairman himself, Falih Fayyadh, who is also national security advisor to the prime minister, dismissed the assertions of his deputy.
However, the blasts prompted Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi to action. He issued a decree that mandates all armament storage facilities be located outside cities and which puts stricter measures on the use of the country’s airspace by all types of military aircraft.
Early Friday, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned of a “strong response” if Israel is proven to have been behind the recent airstrikes.
Editing by John J. Catherine