Iraq is suffering from protests, ISIS threats and the need to find a new prime minister after Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned earlier this week, and Iran wants to exploit the power vacuum in Iraq.
Iran has been transferring missiles and munitions via Iraq for years, including short-range ballistic missiles. The latest reports on Thursday come almost a year and a half after reports that similar missiles had been sent to Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq and that Iran was laying the infrastructure across Iraq and Syria to threaten Israel, deter attacks and project its power.
In August 2018 Reuters reported, based on three Iranian officials, two Iraqi intelligence sources and two Western intelligence sources, that Iran’s short-range ballistic missiles were traveling to Iraq. The concept of Tehran was to do what it has done already in Yemen and Lebanon and Gaza, send its weapons technology to allies and proxies. The report at the time claimed that Iran also wanted these militias in Iraq to be able to build their own rockets.
In August 2018 the situation in the region was different than today. In June of 2018 an airstrike hit the headquarters of Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah in Syria. Kataib Hezbollah is a militia run by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who the US views as a terrorist. But Muhandis is also the deputy of the Popular Mobilization Units, a group of Iraqi Shi’ite militias that was created in 2014 to fight ISIS. Muhandis has a long-time association with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Qasem Soleimani.
His group had fought ISIS but was then building a base near Albukamal on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border. In September 2017 another Shi’ite militia commander, Qias Khazali, went to Lebanon to meet Hezbollah and also went to an area near the Israeli border. He signaled that Iraqi militias, backed by Iran, would aid Hezbollah in a war against Israel.
The context then of the Kataib Hezbollah attempt to move into Syria was to build a waystation along Iran’s “land bridge” or “road to the sea” that stretches across Iraq and Syria to the Golan border and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Image Sat International published photos of the June airstrike in early July 2018. It shows how this was part of an Iranian network for facilities including a border crossing.
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