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.

 


Militant sentenced to 19 years for role in Benghazi attacks

Updated 2 min 12 sec ago

Militant sentenced to 19 years for role in Benghazi attacks

  • Al-Imam is the second militant convicted in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel
  • The head of the extremist militia who directed the siege, Ahmed Abu Khattala, was convicted in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison

NEW YORK: A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a Libyan militant to more than 19 years in prison for his role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador.
A jury convicted Mustafa Al-Imam last year of conspiring to support the extremist militia that launched the fiery assaults on the US compounds but deadlocked on 15 other counts.
The attacks, aimed at killing American personnel, prompted a political fracas in which Republicans accused the Obama administration of a bungled response.
Al-Imam was sentenced to a total of 236 months behind bars. He is the second militant convicted in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, communications specialist Sean Smith and security officers Tyrone Snowden Woods and Glen Anthony Doherty.
The head of the extremist militia who directed the siege, Ahmed Abu Khattala, was convicted in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Khattala was accused of driving to the diplomatic mission on Sept. 11, 2012, and breaching the main gate with militants who attacked with assault rifles, grenades and other weapons.
The initial attack killed Stevens and Smith and set the mission ablaze. Woods and Doherty were later killed at a CIA annex.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Washington asked US District Judge Christopher Cooper to send a message to others contemplating attacks on Americans overseas, saying Al-Imam deserved the maximum 35-year sentence.
“In the current geopolitical environment, terrorists must understand that there are harsh consequences for attacking diplomatic posts and harming US personnel — particularly a US ambassador,” Assistant US Attorney John Cummings wrote in a court filing.
Defense attorneys said Al-Imam made a “tremendous mistake” by damaging and looting US property after the attacks. But they insisted there was no evidence he intended to harm any Americans, noting jurors could not reach a verdict on the murder charges Al-Imam faced.
“Mustafa Al-Imam is a frail, uneducated and simple man,” they wrote in a court filing. “He is not a fighter, an ideologue or a terrorist. He is a former convenience store clerk whose main loves in life are soccer and family.”
Al-Imam was tried in a civilian court despite the Trump administration’s earlier contention that such suspects are better sent to Guantanamo Bay. His arrest, five years after the attack, was the first publicly known operation since President Donald Trump took office targeting those accused of involvement in Benghazi.
Prosecutors acknowledged there was no evidence that Al-Imam “directly caused” the killings at the US compounds. But they said he aligned himself with Khattala and acted as his “eyes and ears” at the height of the attacks.
During a four-week trial in Washington, prosecutors pointed to phone records that showed Al-Imam was in the vicinity of the mission and placed an 18-minute call to Khattala during a “pivotal moment” of the attacks.
Al-Imam also entered the US compound, prosecutors said, and took sensitive material that identified the location of the CIA annex about a mile away from the mission as the evacuation point for Department of State personnel.
In interviews with law enforcement following his 2017 capture in Misrata, Libya, he admitted stealing a phone and map from the US mission.