Iraqi armed groups dial down US attacks on request of Iran commander

Iraqi armed groups dial down US attacks on request of Iran commander
Kataib Hezbollah Iraqi militia display the picture of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani as they gather ahead of the funeral of the Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport on January 4, 2020. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 19 February 2024
Follow

Iraqi armed groups dial down US attacks on request of Iran commander

Iraqi armed groups dial down US attacks on request of Iran commander
  • Lull allowed talks to resume over the future of US troops in Iraq
  • Fearing escalation, Iraq asked Iran to help rein in groups

BAGHDAD: A visit by the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force to Baghdad has led to a pause in attacks on US troops by Iran-aligned groups in Iraq, multiple Iranian and Iraqi sources told Reuters, saying it was a sign Tehran wants to prevent a broader conflict.

Esmail Qaani met representatives of several of the armed groups in Baghdad airport on Jan. 29, less than 48 hours after Washington blamed the groups for the killing of three US soldiers at the Tower 22 outpost in Jordan, the sources said.
Qaani, whose predecessor was killed by a US drone near the same airport four years ago, told the factions that drawing American blood risked a heavy US response, 10 of the sources said.
He said the militias should lie low, to avoid US strikes on their senior commanders, destruction of key infrastructure, or even a direct retaliation against Iran, the sources said.
While one faction did not initially agree to Qaani’s request, most others did. The next day, the elite Iran-backed group Kataib Hezbollah announced it was suspending attacks.
Since Feb. 4 there have been no attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria, compared to more than 20 in the two weeks before Qaani’s visit, part of a surge in violence from the groups in opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza.
“Without Qaani’s direct intervention it would have been impossible to convince Kataib Hezbollah to halt its military operations to de-escalate the tension,” a senior commander in one of the Iran-aligned Iraqi armed groups said.
Qaani and the Quds Force, the arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that works with allied armed groups from Lebanon to Yemen, did not immediately reply to requests for comment for this story. Kataib Hezbollah and one other group could not be reached for comment. The US White House and Pentagon also did not immediately respond.
Qaani’s visit has been mentioned in Iraqi media but the details of his message and the impact on reducing attacks have not been previously reported.
For this account, Reuters talked to three Iranian officials, a senior Iraqi security official, three Iraqi Shiite politicians, four sources in Iran-backed Iraqi armed groups and four Iraq-focused diplomats.

Iraq-US talks resume
The apparent success of the visit highlights the influence Iran wields with Iraqi armed groups, who alternate between building pressure and cooling tensions to further their goal of pushing US forces out of Iraq.
The government in Baghdad, a rare ally of both Tehran and Washington, is trying to prevent the country again becoming a battlefield for foreign powers and asked Iran to help rein in the groups after the Jordan attack, five of the sources said.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani “has worked with all relevant parties both inside and outside Iraq, warning them,” that escalation “will destabilize Iraq and the region,” Sudani’s foreign affairs adviser Farhad Alaadin told Reuters when asked to confirm Qaani’s visit and the request for help to rein in armed groups.
The attack “played into the hand of the Iraqi government.” a Shiite politician from the ruling coalition said. Following the subsequent lull in hostilities, on Feb. 6 talks resumed with the United States about ending the US presence in Iraq.
Several Iran-aligned parties and armed groups in Iraq also prefer talks rather than attacks to end the US troop presence. Washington has been unwilling to negotiate a change to its military posture under fire, concerned it would embolden Iran.
The United States currently has some 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria on an advise and assist mission. They are part of an international coalition deployed in 2014 to fight Islamic State, mainly in the west of the country and eastern Syria.
A US State Department spokesperson, who declined to comment on Qaani’s visit to Baghdad, said the US presence in Iraq would transition to “an enduring bilateral security relationship.”
The United States asserts that Iran has a high level of control over what it calls Iranian “proxies” in the region. Tehran says it has funded, advised and trained allies but they decide on operations on their own.
Another US official recognized Iran’s role in reducing attacks but said it was not clear if the lull would hold.
“We need to see more work done on the ground,” by Iraq to control the militias, a separate, senior, US official said, noting just a few arrests were made after a December mortar attack on the US embassy in Baghdad.

Airport security
With Iran bracing for a US response to the Jordan attack, Qaani made the visit quick and did not leave the airport, “for strict security reasons and fearing for his safety,” the senior Iraqi security source said.
The strike in 2020 that killed former Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani outside the airport followed an attack Washington also blamed on Kataib Hezbollah that killed a US contractor, and at the time sparked fears of a regional war. Along with Soleimani, the drone killed former Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
Both Tehran and Baghdad wanted to avoid a similar escalation this time around, nine sources said.
“The Iranians learned their lesson from the liquidation of Soleimani and did not want this to be repeated,” the senior Iraqi security source said.
A high-ranking Iranian security official said: “Commander Qaani’s visit was successful, though not entirely, as not all Iraqi groups consented to de-escalate.” One smaller but very active group, Nujaba, said it would continue attacks, arguing that US forces would only leave by force.
It remains to be seen how long the pause holds. An umbrella group representing hard-line factions vowed to resume operations in the wake of the US killing of senior Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Baqir Al-Saadi in Baghdad on Feb. 7.
Saadi was also a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state security agency that started out as mostly Shiite armed groups close to Iran that fought against Islamic State, highlighting just how intertwined the Iran-backed armed groups are with the Iraqi state.
US-led forces invaded Iraq and toppled former leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, before withdrawing in 2011.
Shiite armed groups who spent years attacking US forces in the wake of the 2003 invasion went on to fight on the same side as, though not in direct partnership with, US soldiers against Islamic State until it was territorially defeated.
In the subsequent years, rounds of tit-for-tat fighting with the remaining US troops escalated until the US killing of Soleimani and Muhandis.
Those killings prompted Iraq’s parliament to vote for the exit of foreign forces. Prime Minister Sudani’s government came to power in October 2022 on a promise to implement that decision, though it was not seen as a priority, government officials have said.
The situation changed again with the onset of the Gaza war.
Dozens of attacks and several rounds of US responses, including the killing of a senior Nujaba leader in Baghdad on Jan. 5, led Sudani to declare that the coalition had become a magnet for instability and to initiate talks for its end.
He has kept the door open to continued US presence in a different format via a bilateral deal.
Iraqi officials have said they hope the current lull will hold so the talks, expected to take months if not longer, can reach a conclusion.
At a funeral service for Saadi, senior Kataib Hezbollah official and PMF military chief Abdul Aziz Al-Mohammedawi vowed a response for the latest killing, but stopped short of announcing a return to violence. The response would be based on consensus, he said, including with the government.
“Revenge for the martyr Abu Baqir Al-Saadi means the exit of all foreign forces from Iraq. We won't accept anything less than that,” he said.


flydubai airline cancels flights to Iran: statement

flydubai airline cancels flights to Iran: statement
Updated 8 sec ago
Follow

flydubai airline cancels flights to Iran: statement

flydubai airline cancels flights to Iran: statement
  • Flight-tracking software shows commercial flights avoiding western Iran, including Isfahan, and skirting Tehran to the north and east
DUBAI: Dubai’s flydubai airline canceled flights to Iran on Friday after receiving an official alert, a statement said.
“In line with the issued NOTAM (notice to air missions), our flights to Iran today have been canceled,” said the statement sent to AFP.
One flight which had already departed for Tehran returned to Dubai after the Iranian capital’s airport was closed, it added.
Flights were suspended across swathes of Iran as Iranian state media reported explosions in the central province of Isfahan.
Flight-tracking software showed commercial flights avoiding western Iran, including Isfahan, and skirting Tehran to the north and east.
There was no immediate comment from Dubai’s state-owned Emirates airline, flydubai’s sister carrier, which was operating several of the planes.
Emirates and flydubai have experienced serious disruption this week after record rainfall caused more than 1,000 flight cancelations at Dubai airport, one of the world’s busiest air hubs.

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes
Updated 3 min 49 sec ago
Follow

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes
  • Drones shot down over Isfahan, says Iranian state media
  • Israel military refuses to comment on incident

DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Israeli missiles have hit a site in Iran, ABC News reported late on Thursday, citing a US official, while Iranian state media reported an explosion in the center of the country, days after Iran launched a retaliatory drone strike on Israel.

Commercial flights began diverting their routes early Friday morning over western Iran without explanation as one semiofficial news agency in the Islamic Republic claimed there had been “explosions” heard over the city of Isfahan.

Some Emirates and Flydubai flights that were flying over Iran early on Friday made sudden sharp turns away from the airspace, according to flight paths shown on tracking website Flightradar24.

“Flights over Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran cities have been suspended,” state media reported.

Iranian officials said its air defenses did shot down several drones but there had been “no missile attack for now” on the country.

The state-run IRNA news agency reported that Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday morning across several provinces after reports of explosions near the city of Isfahan.

Several drones “have been successfully shot down by the country’s air defense, there are no reports of a missile attack for now,” Iran’s space agency spokesman Hossein Dalirian says on X.

The Fars news agency said “three explosions” were heard near the Shekari army airbase near Isfahan.

Iran’s local media also reported that nuclear facilities in Isfahan were “completely secure” after explosions were heard near the area.

“Nuclear facilities in Isfahan province are completely secure,” Tasnim news agency reports, quoting “reliable sources.”

Israel had said it would retaliate against Iran’s weekend attack, which involved hundreds of drones and missiles in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria. Most of the Iranian drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory.

Several Iranian nuclear sites are located in Isfahan province, including Natanz, centerpiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Isfahan, Isome 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Iran’s capital, Tehran, is also home to a major air base for the Iranian military.

Meanwhile in Iraq where a number of Iranian-backed militias are based, residents in Baghdad reported hearing sounds of explosions, but the source of the noise was not immediately clear.

In Syria, a local activist group said strikes hit an army position in the south of the country Friday. 

“There were strikes on a Syrian army radar position,” said Rayan Maarouf, who runs the Suwayda24 anti-government website that covers news from Sweida province in the south.

Iranian military positions in Syria had been frequently targetted by Israeli air strikes over the past years. Early this month, an Israeli strike demolished a consular building annex of the Iranian Embassy in Sydia's capital Damascus, killing 13 people, including two generals of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, triggering the Iranian missiles and drones attack on Israel on April 13.

At the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Iran urged member nations that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

Israel had said it was going to retaliate against Iran’s April 13 missile and drone attack.

Analysts and observers have been raising concerns about the risks of the Israel-Gaza war spreading into the rest of the region.

Oil prices and jumped on the reports of the Israeli strike. Brent crude futures rose 2 percent to $88.86 a barrel, the dollar gained broadly, gold rose 1 percent and S&P 500 futures dropped 1 percent.

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s military offensive has killed over 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the local health ministry.
Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, launching attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.


Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes
Updated 35 min 14 sec ago
Follow

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes
  • Drones shot down over Isfahan: Iranian state television
  • Israel military refuses to comment on incident 

DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Israeli missiles have hit a site in Iran, ABC News reported late on Thursday, citing a US official, while Iranian state media reported an explosion in the center of the country, days after Iran launched a retaliatory drone strike on Israel.

Commercial flights began diverting their routes early Friday morning over western Iran without explanation as one semiofficial news agency in the Islamic Republic claimed there had been “explosions” heard over the city of Isfahan.

Some Emirates and Flydubai flights that were flying over Iran early on Friday made sudden sharp turns away from the airspace, according to flight paths shown on tracking website Flightradar24.

“Flights over Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran cities have been suspended,” state media reported.

Iranian officials said its air defenses did shot down several drones but there had been “no missile attack for now” on the country.

The state-run IRNA news agency reported that Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday morning across several provinces after reports of explosions near the city of Isfahan.

Several drones “have been successfully shot down by the country’s air defense, there are no reports of a missile attack for now,” Iran’s space agency spokesman Hossein Dalirian says on X.

The Fars news agency said “three explosions” were heard near the Shekari army airbase near Isfahan.

Iran’s local media also reported that nuclear facilities in Isfahan were “completely secure” after explosions were heard near the area.

“Nuclear facilities in Isfahan province are completely secure,” Tasnim news agency reports, quoting “reliable sources.”

Israel had said it would retaliate against Iran’s weekend attack, which involved hundreds of drones and missiles in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria. Most of the Iranian drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory.

Several Iranian nuclear sites are located in Isfahan province, including Natanz, centerpiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Isfahan, Isome 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Iran’s capital, Tehran, is also home to a major air base for the Iranian military.


Meanwhile in Iraq where a number of Iranian-backed militias are based, residents in Baghdad reported hearing sounds of explosions, but the source of the noise was not immediately clear.

In Syria, a local activist group said strikes hit an army position in the south of the country Friday. 

“There were strikes on a Syrian army radar position,” said Rayan Maarouf, who runs the Suwayda24 anti-government website that covers news from Sweida province in the south.

Iranian military positions in Syria had been frequently targetted by Israeli air strikes over the past years. Early this month, an Israeli strike demolished a consular building annex of the Iranian Embassy in Sydia's capital Damascus, killing 13 people, including two generals of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, triggering the Iranian missiles and drones attack on Israel on April 13.

At the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Iran urged member nations that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

 

Israel had said it was going to retaliate against Iran’s April 13 missile and drone attack.

Analysts and observers have been raising concerns about the risks of the Israel-Gaza war spreading into the rest of the region.

Oil prices and jumped on the reports of the Israeli strike. Brent crude futures rose 2 percent to $88.86 a barrel, the dollar gained broadly, gold rose 1 percent and S&P 500 futures dropped 1 percent.

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s military offensive has killed over 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the local health ministry.
Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, launching attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.


Hamas slams US veto of Palestinian UN membership bid

Hamas slams US veto of Palestinian UN membership bid
Updated 19 April 2024
Follow

Hamas slams US veto of Palestinian UN membership bid

Hamas slams US veto of Palestinian UN membership bid

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Palestinian militant group Hamas condemned on Friday the US veto that ended a long-shot Palestinian bid for full United Nations membership.
“Hamas condemns the American veto at the Security Council of the draft resolution granting Palestine full membership in the United Nations,” the Gaza Strip rulers said in a statement, which comes amid growing international concern over the toll inflicted by the war in the besieged Palestinian territory.
The veto by Israel’s main ally and military backer had been expected ahead of the vote, which took place more than six months into Israel’s offensive in Gaza, in retaliation for the deadly October 7 attack by Hamas militants.
Twelve countries voted in favor of the draft resolution, which was introduced by Algeria and “recommends to the General Assembly that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.” Britain and Switzerland abstained.


Gazans search for remains after deadly Rafah strike

Gazans search for remains after deadly Rafah strike
Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

Gazans search for remains after deadly Rafah strike

Gazans search for remains after deadly Rafah strike

An Israeli strike hit the home where a displaced Palestinian family was sheltering in the southern city of Rafah, relatives and neighbors told AFP as they scraped at the soil with their hands.

Al-Arja said the blast killed at least 10 people.

“We retrieved the remains of children and women, finding arms and feet. They were all torn to pieces.

“This is horrifying. It’s not normal,” he said, hauling concrete and broken olive branches from the wreckage. “The entire world is complicit.”

Soon after the war began on Oct. 7, Israel told Palestinians living in the north of Gaza to move to “safe zones” in the territory’s south, like Rafah.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since vowed to invade the city, where around 1.5 million people live in shelters, more than half the territory’s population.

“How is Rafah a safe place?” said Zeyad Ayyad, a relative of the victims. He sighed as he cradled a fragment of the remains.

“I heard the bombing last night and then went back to sleep. I did not think it hit my aunt’s house.”

The search for remains was long and painful. The strike left a huge crater and children picked through the rubble while neighbors removed debris, tarpaulin, a pink top.

“We can see them under the rubble and we’re unable to retrieve them,” Al-Arja said. 

“These are people who came from the north because it was said the south is safe.”

“They struck without any warning,” he said.

In a separate strike on the house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighborhood overnight on Tuesday, rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, Gaza’s civil defense service said.

“An Israeli rocket hit a house of displaced people,” said resident Sami Nyrab. 

“My sister’s son-in-law, her daughter, and her children were having dinner when an Israeli missile demolished their house over their heads.”