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US Officials: Israel Strike its Iraq   08/23 06:27

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- U.S. officials have confirmed that Israel was responsible 
for the bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month, an attack that 
would mark a significant escalation in Israel's years-long campaign against 
Iranian military entrenchment across the region.

   The confirmation comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is 
strongly hinting that his country is behind recent airstrikes that have hit 
bases and munitions depot belonging to Iran-backed paramilitary forces 
operating in Iraq.

   The mystery attacks have not been claimed by any side and have left Iraqi 
officials scrambling for a response, amid strong speculation that Israel may 
have been behind them. Earlier this week, the deputy head of the Iraqi Shiite 
militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, openly accused 
Israeli drones of carrying out the attacks, but ultimately blamed Washington 
and threatened strong retaliation for any future attack.

   Such attacks are potentially destabilizing for Iraq and its fragile 
government, which has struggled to remain neutral amid growing tensions between 
the United States and Iran.

   There have been at least three explosions at Iraqi Shiite militia bases in 
the past month. American officials now confirm Israel was responsible for at 
least one of them.

   Two American officials said Israel carried out an attack on an Iranian 
weapons depot in July that killed two Iranian military commanders. The U.S. 
officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to 
discuss the matter with the media.

   The July 19 attack struck a militia base in Amirli, in Iraq's northern 
Salaheddin province, causing a huge explosion and fire. A senior official with 
the Shiite militias at the time told The Associated Press that the base hit 
housed advisers from Iran and Lebanon --- a reference to the Iranian-backed 
Lebanese Hezbollah group. He said the attack targeted the headquarters of the 
advisers and a weapons depot.

   On August 12, a massive explosion at the al-Saqr military base near Baghdad 
shook the capital, killing one civilian and wounding 28 others. The base housed 
a weapons depot for the Iraqi federal police and the PMF. The most recent of 
the explosions came Tuesday night, at a munitions depot north of Baghdad.

   There have been weeks of speculation in Israel that the army is attacking 
targets in Iraq.

   In an interview with a Russian-language TV station on Thursday, Netanyahu 
indicated the speculation is true.

   "I don't give Iran immunity anywhere," he said, accusing the Iranians of 
trying to establish bases "against us everywhere," including Syria, Lebanon, 
Yemen and Iraq.

   Asked whether that means Israel is operating in Iraq, Netanyahu said: "We 
act in many arenas against a country that desires to annihilate us. Of course I 
gave the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed 
to thwart these plans of Iran."

   Early Friday, the New York Times, citing Israeli and U.S. officials, 
reported that Israel bombed an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month.

   It would be the first known Israeli airstrike in Iraq since 1981, when 
Israeli warplanes destroyed a nuclear reactor being built by Saddam Hussein. It 
also steps up Israel's campaign against Iranian military involvement across the 
region.

   Israel has previously acknowledged hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian targets 
in neighboring Syria, primarily arms shipments believed to be destined for 
Iran's Hezbollah allies.

   Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy and has repeatedly vowed that 
it will not allow the Iranians, who are supporting the forces of Syrian 
President Bashar Assad, to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.

   Striking Iraq would be far more complicated than reaching neighboring Syria.

   The Israeli warplanes would likely have to travel through Turkey, a former 
ally that now has cool relations with Israel, or through Saudi Arabia, to carry 
out strikes on Iraq.

   Israel and the Saudis do not have formal diplomatic relations, but are 
believed to have established a behind-the-scenes alliance based on their shared 
hostility toward Iran.


(KR)

 
 
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