A report published by Reuters on Friday revealed that Iran is moving ballistic missiles into Iraq, placing the weapons in the hands of its Shiite militia proxies to expand its ability to hit targets across the Middle East in a regional conflict or war against Western powers.
The Reuters piece is sourced to “three Iranian officials, two Iraqi intelligence sources and two Western intelligence sources.” According to these sources, Iran is not only shipping short-range ballistic missiles to its Iraqi allies but teaching them how to build their own weapons.
“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,” one of the Iranian officials explained.
Naturally, the theocratically-controlled Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its overseas dirty-tricks unit, the Quds Force, is carrying out the scheme:
The Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaqar missiles in question have ranges of about 200 km to 700 km, putting Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh or the Israeli city of Tel Aviv within striking distance if the weapons were deployed in southern or western Iraq.
The Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has bases in both those areas. Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani is overseeing the program, three of the sources said.
Reuters was not able to get a comment on the record from any of the governments involved in the story, including the Israelis, but they probably are not thrilled by the prospect of factories in Iraqi Shiite strongholds cranking out missiles that could hit Tel Aviv.
The Times of Israel posted satellite photos on Friday of alleged Iranian surface-to-air missile factories in Syria. Those facilities appear to be protected by Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile batteries. The Israeli military is believed to have targeted missile production facilities in Syria that were seen as a threat to Israel’s security.
According to the report, the IRGC has been working on this plan for a year and a half but stepped up missile transfers over the past few months after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and restored U.S. sanctions against Iran.
The Iraqi government is said to have been aware of the missile transfers but raised no objections because it was thought the weapons would be used by Shiite militias to fight Islamic State militants. It is not clear why any official would sincerely believe a handful of missiles with a range of at least 200 kilometers would be essential to that task.
An Iraqi intelligence official who spoke to Reuters said no one really believed that, but Baghdad was too afraid of the Shiite warlord and their Iranian patrons to do anything about the missile shipments, even though the militias have nominally been answering to the Iraqi government as “Popular Mobilization Forces” since 2016:
“It was clear to Iraqi intelligence that such a missile arsenal sent by Iran was not meant to fight Daesh (Islamic State) militants but as a pressure card Iran can use once involved in a regional conflict,” the official said.
The Iraqi source said it was difficult for the Iraqi government to stop or persuade the groups to go against Tehran.
“We can’t restrain militias from firing Iranian rockets because simply the firing button is not in our hands, it’s with Iranians who control the push button,” he said.
“Iran will definitely use the missiles it handed over to Iraqi militia it supports to send a strong message to its foes in the region and the United States that it has the ability to use Iraqi territories as a launch pad for its missiles to strike anywhere and anytime it decides,” the Iraqi official said.
The presence of a few dozen Iranian ballistic missiles in Iraq seems more well-established in the Reuters report than the existence of the Shiite militia missile factories, although the report does specify the location of the facilities. One of them was a warhead production facility under Saddam Hussein that was shut down after the U.S. invasion of Iraq but reactivated by the Shiites with Iranian assistance.
Reuters anticipated news of Iranian missiles in Iraq would anger the Trump administration and embarrass the Europeans, who have been laboring to save the nuclear deal and reduce the pain of sanctions against Iran. Western powers will not approve of Iran turning Iraq into a “forward missile base,” as one source for the report put it.
As for Tehran’s attitude, either the Iranian sources in the story took huge risks by talking to Reuters, or this is news the regime wants to spread in order to intimidate its adversaries. In that case, Iran is either not worried about humiliating the Europeans or has given up on waiting for them to rescue it from U.S. sanctions.
News of Iranian missiles in Iraq would also make a mockery of Iran’s angry denials that it has been providing weapons to destabilizing forces across the Middle East, but fortunately for the Iranian regime, it has a very limited capacity for embarrassment.
Kudristan24 noted on Friday that Iran’s theocratic leadership has been boasting that American and Israeli targets are “in range of Iranian rockets” during its campaign of belligerent defiance, which includes show off (dubious) new weapon systems and threatening to blockade the Strait of Hormuz.