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

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?”

Four killed in torrential Tunisia rains

Updated 14 min 7 sec ago

Four killed in torrential Tunisia rains

NABEUL, Tunisia: Flash floods in Tunisia’s Cap Bon peninsula have killed at least four people, authorities said Sunday, as surging waters caused by heavy rains carried away homes, cars and chunks of road.
Among the four dead were two sisters, swept away as they left work at a factory in Bou Argoub, 45 kilometers southeast of the capital, the interior ministry said.
A 60-year-old man drowned near the town of Takilsa and another man was found dead in Bir Bouregba, close to the town of Hammamet, ministry spokesman Sofiene Zaag told AFP.
Saturday’s storm caused water levels in some areas to rise as much as 1.7 meters (5.6 feet), as bridges and roads were damaged in record rains that dropped the equivalent of nearly six months of average precipitation.
“It was raining since noon and (in the afternoon) it became torrential. The water flooded over the bridge and onto the road,” Moncef Barouni, a resident in the coastal town of Nabeul, told AFP.
In just minutes, “the water swept away the fence, then the boiler room, the summer kitchen and a part of the house,” he said.
“I was scared for my life.”
The storm dumped 200 millimeters (7.9 inches) of rain on Nabeul and up to 225 millimeters in the city of Beni Khalled, in the peninsula’s center, according to Tunisia’s National Institute of Meteorology.
It was the heaviest rainfall since the institute began keeping a record in 1995, the institute said, adding that it had issued a warning about the storms on Friday.
Videos posted to social networks showed surging waters carrying cars and pieces of road in the north of the peninsula.
Tunisian authorities said they had dispatched police, army and rescue teams to the region on Saturday afternoon, in addition to mobilizing ambulances and two helicopters.
Authorities also took preventative measures in the Sahel region further south in anticipation of further rains, but by Sunday they appeared to have subsided.
The sun was out Sunday and receding water levels meant most of the area’s roads were passable by car, Zaag said, although the region’s telephone networks were still largely out of service.
Severe thunderstorms have hit the North African country since the middle of last week, flooding roads and damaging property, sparking anger against the authorities for allegedly failing to maintain drainage systems.