Fears over Iranian proxies’ Iraq missile factories

A USS Jason Dunham’s VBSS team recently seized a large cache of over 1,000 AK-47 automatic rifles aboard a stateless skiff while operating in the US 5th Fleet area of operations. Similar vessels intercepted in recent years were shipping weapons to Yemen’s Houthi militia from their backers in Iran. In October 2016, US ships intercepted five Iranian arms shipments bound for Yemen. (Supplied)
Updated 01 September 2018
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Fears over Iranian proxies’ Iraq missile factories

  • Improved missile technology being developed by Iranian proxy forces in another country in the Middle East will be of grave concern to Arab countries and the US
  • Iran has been financing and equipping dozens of Shiite and Sunni insurgent groups operating in Iraq since 2005

BAGHDAD: Iraqi armed factions backed by Iran have been working for months to develop ballistic missiles and are threatening to use them against American forces in the country, Shiite commanders and Iraqi security officials told Arab News.

Improved missile technology being developed by Iranian proxy forces in another country in the Middle East will be of grave concern to Arab countries and the US. 

Iran is already accused of supplying Houthi militias in Yemen with ballistic missiles that are fired at Saudi Arabia, and helping Hezbollah build factories in Lebanon that produce similar weapons.

Iran has been financing and equipping dozens of Shiite and Sunni insurgent groups operating in Iraq since 2005. Some have become the most powerful military groups in Iraq and the region, including Badr Organization, Assaib Ahl Al-Haq, Kattaib Hezbollah-Iraq and Saraya Al-Kharasani.

All of the groups fought against Daesh over the last four years under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization, alongside the regular Iraqi military and which was backed by the US-led coalition in Iraq.

Latest versions

Although most of these groups have been equipped by Iran, many have established factories to manufacture they own weapons across the country.

They succeeded in producing some short-range missiles such as Al-Ashtar, Al-Muntaqim and Al-Qaher, and have moved on to expand the ranges of these missiles.

The most advanced — Al-Fatah — is the result two years work, a senior Shiite commander within the Saraya Al-Kharassani faction told Arab News.

He said the ranges of the latest versions are still unclear as they have not yet had a chance to test them.

“All the (Shiite) armed factions have participated in this by using Iraqi and foreign experts,” he said. “The missiles are ready but have not been used before. We may experiment them in the next few days near the border in Basra.” 

A report by Reuters on Friday said ballistic missiles had been transferred from Iran to Iraq over the past few months to threaten Iran’s enemies in the region. 

The report said the missiles had a range of between 200 and 700 kilometers, putting Riyadh or the Israeli city of Tel Aviv within striking distance if the weapons were deployed in southern or western Iraq.

Shiite commanders and Iraqi security officials, however, told Arab News that these missiles have been built in Iraq and their range has not yet been tested to be classified as medium-range. They said their use for targets outside Iraq has not even discussed.

Ahmed Assadi, the commander of Kattaib Sayed Al-Shuhaddaa and a newly elected Shiite MP, told Arab News that so far the missiles had not yet reached further than 70 kilometers when tested.

“There is a Directorate of Military Manufacturing linked to the popular mobilization that has factories spread outside the cities and in areas known to the government,” he said.

“We have been working on developing the range of missiles along the last four years and we started from the 6 kilometer range but have not succeeded to reach more than 70.” 

Assadi denied that missiles were imported by either the regular security forces or the Shiite armed factions from Iran in the last few years.

The Kharassani commander claimed there was no possibility of using the new missiles against targets outside of Iraq but admitted that the government does not have control over the activities of the Iran-backed factions.

“All discussions until now indicate their use will be against the occupier inside Iraq,” he said, in reference to American forces in the country.

The number of missiles are few as the experts are waiting to test them soon in southern near the Iranian border.

“If the experiment of one (missile) succeeded, we can make ten in very short time,” the commander, said.

A senior Iraqi National Security official told Arab News that the transfer of ballistic missiles across the Iraq-Iran border would be almost impossible.

“The border is monitored by the US-led coalition forces by satellites, which are thermally sensitive to this type of missiles and thus it is impossible to transfer such missiles as one piece or even as disjointed pieces across the border without being monitored,” the official said. 

“The issue is very serious and no country can get involved even Iran.”

Shiite political parties and armed factions are Iran’s biggest and most powerful tool in Iraq, where they have competed with the US to win influence since 2003.

“The Americans know that the ballistic Iranian missiles are in Lebanon with Hezbollah not in Iraq,” a prominent Shiite leader told Arab News.

“Iraq is an area used by Iran to solve its problems with America not vice versa.

“Iran sees Iraq as a region that could lose its control completely at any moment, so why would they provide Iraqis with ballistic missiles that might be used against it one day?”


Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

Updated 6 min 12 sec ago
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Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

  • Divers find pottery and stone in shipwrecks dating back 2,300 years
  • Discoveries are from Alexander the Great’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC

Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”