US officials confirm Israel carrying out strikes in Iraq
Israel has carried out at least one strike against a weapons depot in Iraq according to senior Middle Eastern and US officials, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
There have been a series of blasts in Iraq over the past month at training camps and arms depots used by the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary forces, which are mainly composed of pro-Iranian militias.
Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian targets in neighbouring Syria, but an expansion of the campaign to Iraq - where Israel struck the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 - would risk damaging Washington's relations with Baghdad.
A senior Middle Eastern intelligence official said Israel bombed a base north of Baghdad last month, while two American officials said the Jewish state carried out multiple strikes in Iraq in recent days, the Times reported.
The Hashed's deputy commander Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, whose virulent anti-Americanism as a militia leader earned him a US terror blacklisting, has been unequivocal in blaming Washington for the blasts.
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But Faleh al-Fayyadh, the official head of the Hashed, has walked back the accusations, saying investigations were ongoing.
"Preliminary investigations" found the incidents were "an external, premeditated act," he said.
"The investigations will continue until the responsible entities are accurately identified to be able to take the appropriate stances."
However Israel's President Binyamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday that Israel led the attack on the bases.
"We are operating - not just if needed, we are operating in many areas against a state that wants to annihilate us. Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and instructed them to do anything necessary to thwart Iran's plans," the premier said when questioned by Israel's Channel 9 about the strikes.
Tehran is thought to be establishing a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon, via Iraq and Syria, and the strikes appear to correspondent with this alleged supply route.
Israel has carried out a series of air strikes on Tehran-run militias in Syria and warned it would hit Iranian military bases elsewhere in the region.
The PMF is mostly made up of former Shia militias that fought the US during their occupation from 2003.
They were later mobilised - along with Christian, Sunni and Kurdish militias - to fight the Islamic State group following a jihadi takeover of northern Iraq in 2014.
The PMF were officially exluded by Baghdad from the battles for major cities, fearing retaliation against the Sunni civilian population, but the militia coalition is part of the Iraqi armed forces.