Iran using protest chaos to stockpile ballistic missiles in Iraq

US security officials believe Iran-backed militias in Iraq are helping move the Iranian missiles into the country. (AFP/File photo)
Updated 05 December 2019

Iran using protest chaos to stockpile ballistic missiles in Iraq

  • New York Times says Iran is using Shiite militias to help transport and store the missiles

LONDON: Iran is stockpiling short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq amid the chaos of vast anti-government protests there, US media reported.

The move is part of Tehran’s strategy to spread its attack capabilities into different parts of the Middle East and threaten rivals such as Saudi Arabia and US forces based in the region.

Iran is using Iraqi Shiite militias that it funds and trains to help transport and store the missiles, American security officials told the New York Times.

The militias have seized control of several roads and bridges amid the protests that erupted last month, making it easier for Iran to move the weapons into the country, the officials said.

The report did not say how many missiles had been moved or what type they are, but Iran’s short-range usually refers to missiles that have a maximum range of more than 900 kilometers.

This would put cities like Riyadh and Jerusalem within range of areas near Baghdad.

The report comes after Iran was blamed for a complex cruise missile and drone attack against major Saudi oil facilities in September. The Kingdom is still investigating the raid but said the weapons hit Abqaiq oil processing plant and an oil field from a northerly direction. 

However, Washington ruled out that they could have been launched from Iraq after the government in Baghdad denied its territory had been used to stage the attacks.

Reports emerged last year that Iran had started deploying missiles into Iraq and Israel carried out airstrikes over the summer against the systems.

The deployment of more weapons to Iraq will deeply concern the US and its Arab allies. The tactic fits with Iran’s recent operations in which it is accused of attempting to create enough doubt over who and where they were launched from to avoid retaliation while still trying to cause maximum disruption. 

Iran was blamed for attacks on tankers earlier in the year both off the UAE coast and in the Strait of Hormuz that caused global concern over the security of major shipping routes in the region. 

Elissa Slotkin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the New York Times that Iran was taking advantage of the widespread protests in southern Iraq.

“People are not paying enough attention to the fact that ballistic missiles in the last year have been placed in Iraq by Iran with the ability to project violence on the region,” she said.

On Wednesday, a senior Pentagon official said there were indications that Iran could potentially carry out "aggressive" actions in the future, without giving more details.

The US has deployed 14,000 additional troops to the Gulf since the spring to confront the threat from Iran.


Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 12 August 2020

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.