Iran is rapidly setting the scene for its proxy, the powerful Iraqi PMU militia, to conduct its first (made in Iran) missile attack on Israel from western Iraq. This prospect was stressed in the Israeli Military Intelligence Estimate for 2019, which was released on Wednesday, Feb. 13, on the same day – and not by chance – that US and Israeli speakers hammered home the Iranian peril at the International Peace and Security Conference in Warsaw. Israel has come under missile attack from Iraq once before – during the first US Gulf War in 1991 against Saddam Hussein. But this time, the intelligence document stresses, Israel would have no choice but to send the IDF into action in western Iraq to remove the missile threat.
The document also notes that Tehran is busy arming its Shiite militia proxies with missiles whose range covers Israel. This is no surprise. Last August, Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources were quoted as saying, “Iran has given ballistic missiles to Shiite proxies in Iraq and is developing the capacity to build more there to deter attacks on its interests in the Middle East and to give it the means to hit regional foes.” A senior Iranian military source added: “The logic was to have a backup plan if Iran was attacked. The number of missiles is not high, just a couple of dozen, but it can be increased if necessary.”
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources have learned that the US has given the Iraqi government a final warning to immediately remove those pro-Iranian militias from their bases on the Iraqi Syrian border region and the northwest and send Iraqi army units in their place – or else Israel would act to remove them with Washington’s approval. This was the first time that the US has threatened an Arab country with Israeli military action on its behalf.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he visited Baghdad on Jan. 9, explicitly warned Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi that the Trump administration would not stand for the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) dominating Iraq’s national security. He said Israel is poised to attack the PMU in western Iraq if Baghdad fails to dissolve the militia. And the US would not prevent this. Despite this warning, the PMU is still deployed in Anbar and western Mosul, its troops, mobilized and trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have spread along the Iraqi-Syrian border. They control the highways connecting Iraq with Syria and Jordan and sit at the heart of the Chinese plan for the New Silk Road. DEBKA Weekly’s sources also affirm that Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi is not strong enough to order the PMU’s leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis to pull back from these areas. The PMU chief only obeys Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the Al Qods Brigades commander and architect of Iran’s Middle East fronts. And Soleimani defers to no-one but Iran’s’ supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.