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.