Iran has been sending ballistic missiles to several of its Iraqi proxies to bolster their power and threaten Israel and allies of the United States in the region, revealed Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources in an exclusive Reuters report.
According to three Iranian officials, two Iraqi intelligence sources and two Western intelligence sources, Iran has transferred short-range ballistic missiles to allies in Iraq over the last few months. Five of the officials said it was helping those groups to start making their own.
“The logic was to have a backup plan if Iran was attacked,” one senior Iranian official told Reuters. “The number of missiles is not high, just a couple of dozen, but it can be increased if necessary.”
Iran has previously said its ballistic missile activities are purely defensive in nature. Iranian officials declined to comment when asked about the latest moves.
The Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaqar missiles in question have ranges of about 200 km to 700 km, putting Israel’s Tel Aviv within striking distance if the weapons were deployed in southern or western Iraq, said Reuters.
The Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has bases in both those areas. Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani is overseeing the program, three of the sources said.
Western countries have already accused Iran of transferring missiles and technology to Syria and other allies of Tehran, such as Houthi militias in Yemen and Lebanon’s “Hezbollah”.
The Iranian sources and one Iraqi intelligence source said a decision was made some 18 months ago to use militias to produce missiles in Iraq, but activity had ramped up in the last few months, including with the arrival of missile launchers.
“We have bases like that in many places and Iraq is one of them. If America attacks us, our friends will attack America’s interests and its allies in the region,” said a senior IRGC commander who served during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The Western source and the Iraqi source said the factories being used to develop missiles in Iraq were in al-Zafaraniya, east of Baghdad, and Jurf al-Sakhar, north of Kerbala. One Iranian source said there was also a factory in Iraqi Kurdistan. The areas are controlled by Shiite factions, noted Reuters.
One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Tehran over the last few months has transferred missiles to groups in Iraq but could not confirm that those missiles had any launch capability from their current positions.
A regional intelligence source said Iran was storing a number of ballistic missiles in areas of Iraq that were under effective Shiite control and had the capacity to launch them.
The source could not confirm that Iran has a missile production capacity in Iraq.
A second Iraqi intelligence official said Baghdad had been aware of the flow of Iranian missiles to Shiite militias to help fight the ISIS, but that shipments had continued after the terrorist group was defeated.
“It was clear to Iraqi intelligence that such a missile arsenal sent by Iran was not meant to fight ISIS, but as a pressure card Iran can use once involved in regional conflict,” the official said according to Reuters.
The Iraqi source said it was difficult for the Iraqi government to stop or persuade the groups to go against Tehran.
An informed source in London told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iran has since 2014 been setting up factories in Iraq to manufacture various rockets that have been used in the fight against ISIS.
The factories have been established in areas south of Baghdad and further to the west near the disputed al-Nakheeb region located between the Anbar and Karbala provinces, he revealed.
The factories did manufacture rockets that were used to combat ISIS, but since 2017, others have been set up to produce long-range missiles to target US allies in the region, including Israel, it added.
Israeli jets had over the past two years flown deep into Iraqi airspace to photograph locations that are manufacturing or developing rockets to possibly target them at a later stage, it continued.
Iraq national security expert Hisham al-Hashemi told Asharq Al-Awsat that these revelations are tantamount to a “green light” for Israel to target Iran’s allies in Iraq.
The intelligence information that confirmed the Israeli overflights means that the Israelis are aware of Iran’s plan, he stated.
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