[Published here August 31, 2019]
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s government is preparing a complaint to the U.N. after finding Israel is “certainly” behind several attacks on Al-Hashd al-Shaabi bases, a parliamentarian and leading member of the force said.
The Al-Hashd network of paramilitary groups has blamed both Israel and the U.S. for a string of blasts and drone sightings at its bases in recent weeks. Baghdad has thus far refrained from making accusations but said it was studying “indications of foreign involvement.”
Ahmad al-Assadi, an Al-Hashd official and spokesperson for its parliamentary bloc “Fatah,” told journalists Thursday in his Baghdad office that government probes would name Israel.
“Some of the government investigations have reached a conclusion that the perpetrator behind some of the attacks is absolutely, certainly Israel,” he said, declining to provide details on the evidence.
“The government is preparing sufficient evidence and documents to complain to the [U.N.] Security Council. It won’t submit a complaint against an unknown entity.”
The Al-Hashd was established in 2014 from mostly-Shiite armed groups and volunteers to fight Daesh (ISIS) and is now formally part of Iraq’s armed forces.
But the U.S. and Israel fear some units are an extension of their arch-foe Iran and have been equipped with precision-guided missiles that could reach Israel.
Since mid-July, five Al-Hashd arms depots and camps have been targeted in apparent attacks and the group said it had fired at surveillance drones over two other bases.
Hashed top officials have said the U.S. is broadly “responsible” but specifically blamed Israeli drones for the latest strike Sunday, which killed an Al-Hashd fighter near Iraq’s western border with Syria.
The Pentagon has denied responsibility and said it is cooperating with Iraq’s investigations, but Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement. Assadi told reporters the U.S. role remained unclear, dulling the group’s earlier accusations.
“Israeli planes supported by the U.S.? We can’t make that accusation. Did America give a green light? We can’t make that accusation,” he said.
But, Assadi added, the Al-Hashd had been expecting an attack as U.S.-Iranian tensions rose after Washington withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran last year.
The U.S. has since imposed tough sanctions on Iran as well as several Al-Hashd leaders and factions.
“Are the attacks that happened surprising for the Iraqi government, the Hashd, or other factions? Of course not,” Assadi said.
“It’s clear. The Hashed is being specifically targeted.”
He did provide some details on the government probe into the Aug. 13 blasts at the Saqr military base near Baghdad, where Al-Hashd fighters are based, and which Assadi said involved three drones.
“The first drone surveiled, the second attacked and the third took pictures of the base after the strike,” he said.
Losses for a single brigade there were estimated at a billion Iraqi dinars, or more than $800,000, the lawmaker added.
He denied allegations that long-range Iranian missiles were stored at the attacked sites and evaded an AFP question on the group’s role in transferring weapons to neighboring Syria.
Assadi, formerly the Al-Hashd’s spokesperson and still a leader within the group, attended a meeting earlier this week between its top brass and Iraq’s president, premier and Parliament speaker.
“We said in the meeting that the resistance factions are ready to respond now if the government wanted that. If you want a response in Iraq, against Israel, in any area,” Assadi said.
But he stressed Al-Hashd would abide by the government’s policy of prioritizing diplomacy.
“Al-Hashd will not fire a single bullet or give a statement or issue a position if it’s not coordinated with the government,” Assadi added.