The Shiite authority in Iran’s Qom has called for resisting the presence of US forces in Iraq in wake of Israel’s indirect acknowledgment that it had carried out airstrikes against Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) arms depots in the country.
Shiite authority in Qom Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri said: “I declare that the deployment of any American military force is prohibited.”
“You have no choice but to resist and confront the enemy,” he said in a statement.
The higher religious authority in Iraq’s Najaf has yet to comment on the Israeli airstrikes.
On whether Haeri’s fatwa, or religious edict, was binding for Iraqi factions, a religious expert told Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity: “In wake of the presence of the authority in Najaf, any fatwa by a cleric from outside of Iraq will not have a major impact.”
Political observers in Baghdad remarked, however, that the fatwa is likely to embarrass the Iraqi government amid the mounting divisions within the PMF, particularly between its leader, Faleh al-Fayyad, and his deputy, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Cracks had emerged within the Iran-backed PMF when Muhandis blamed the US for the blasts at the group’s depot in Iraq last month. Fayyad, however, walked back on the accusations, saying investigations were ongoing.
Iraqi sources revealed Friday that Iran has directly intervened to ease the tensions. It has dispatched a private jet to fly Fayyad and the prime minister’s media bureau chief, Abu Jihad al-Hashemi, to Tehran for talks about the inter-PMF dispute.
Four bases used by the PMF have been hit by mysterious explosions over the past month.
The most recent of the explosions came Tuesday night, at a munitions depot north of Baghdad. The deadliest, a July 19 blast, was blamed on a drone that hit a base in Amirli, northern Iraq, killing two Iranians and causing a huge fire.
A massive explosion on August 12 at the al-Saqr military base near Baghdad shook the capital, destroyed several homes, killed one civilian and wounded 28 others. The base housed a weapons depot for the Iraqi federal police and the PMF.
US officials on Friday confirmed Israel was responsible for the bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki weighed in on the controversy, calling for retaliating against Israel if it was proven to be involved.
“If Israel continues to target Iraq, then Iraq will be an arena for a conflict that involves several countries, including Iran,” he tweeted.
A probe by the Iraqi government has yet to disclose its findings.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly hinted his country was behind the recent airstrikes.
"I don't give Iran immunity anywhere,” he said in an interview Thursday.
Security expert Fadel Abu Ragheef told Asharq Al-Awsat that foreign forces were likely involved in the strikes against the PMF.
Israel believes that Iran transported ballistic weapons and rockets to the PMF in Iraq, he explained. Israel has carried out 17 strikes against PMF positions in Iraq since 2016.
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