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Iran said to give Iraqi militias ballistic missiles capable of hitting Israel

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…As Israel sees slowdown in long-term Iranian deployments in Syria***

For the first time, Iran is deploying ballistic missiles in its western neighbor Iraq with a range that makes them capable of hitting Israel and Sunni rival Saudi Arabia.

According to a report by the Reuters news service, several dozen such rockets are already deployed with Iran’s Shiite proxies in Iraq, while Tehran is working to make sure its allied militias in the country are capable of building more rockets indigenously. That includes the installation of manufacturing facilities in al-Zafaraniya, which lies east of Baghdad, in Jurf al-Sakhar, north of Karbala and in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to various sources cited in the report. Iran has also been training militia members in operating the new weapons.

The deployment is meant to improve Iran’s ability to retaliate against any Western or Arab attacks on its territory, as well as to expand its options for attacking opponents in the region, Reuters said.

Iran’s proxies, allied militias and even its own forces are involved in internal conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

The report cited “three Iranian officials, two Iraqi intelligence sources and two Western intelligence sources.” It said the missiles are of the Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar types, with ranges from 200 to 700 kilometers (124-435 miles), enough to hit the Saudi capital Riyadh from southern Iraq and Israeli territory from western Iraq.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its overseas Quds Force, have bases in both areas of Iraq.

“The logic was to have a backup plan if Iran was attacked,” a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying. “The number of missiles is not high, just a couple of dozen, but it can be increased if necessary.”

The sources claimed Quds Force chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani is leading the effort.

Neither Iran, nor Iraq, would comment to Reuters about the report.

Iran already trains, arms and in many cases directly controls militias throughout the region, from Lebanon’s Hezbollah to Yemen’s Houthi rebels and multiple groups in Syria. This has included shipments of missiles, especially to Hezbollah and in recent years to the Houthis.

One Western source said that “Iran has been turning Iraq into its forward missile base,” adding that the move was not meant to go unnoticed, but sent a “warning” to the US and Israel following Israeli strikes against Iranian installations in Syria.

The move makes Iran’s allies in Iraq better able to attack US troops in the country in the event Iran is attacked.

“We have bases like that in many places and Iraq is one of them. If America attacks us, our friends will attack America’s interests and its allies in the region,” one top IRGC commander said.

The factories that will build new missiles are located in parts of Iraq controlled by Shiite militias most closely allied to Iran.

The factory in al-Zafaraniya produced parts for ballistic missiles, including warheads, under the Saddam regime, and was brought back into use with the help of Iranian officials in 2016. The militias have already tested missiles at the Jurf al-Sakhar site, the report claimed.

Iraqi intelligence has reportedly been following the shipments of missiles to the militias, which began under the pretense of being intended for use in the fight against the Islamic State. But the shipments continued after the IS defeat in Iraq, one Iraqi intelligence official told the news service.

“It was clear to Iraqi intelligence that such a missile arsenal sent by Iran was not meant to fight Daesh (IS) militants, but as a pressure card Iran can use once involved in regional conflict,” the official said.

The Iraqi government could not stop the transfers, the official added. “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 added: “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.”

Iran has long used its Shiite proxies and allies in Iraq to hit back at its opponents. According to transcripts of interrogations in 2007 of a top Shiite military and religious figure in Iraq declassified earlier this year, Iran was heavily involved in Iraqi Shiite militias’ attacks on US troops in the years following the American invasion of the country in 2003.

Qais al-Khazali, who now heads the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia that won 15 parliamentary seats in the country’s May elections, detailed the scale of Iranian involvement in the country in the 2007 interrogation, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing recently declassified documents.

Khazali was under arrest at the time on suspicion of organizing an attempted kidnapping of US soldiers in the Iraqi city of Karala that left five Americans dead.

Khazali’s testimony from that period, declassified by the US military’s Central Command, is especially damning.

Though he is now a critic of Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs, a decade ago his statements to US interrogators depicted Iranian assistance as key to the ability at the time of Iraqi Shiite militias to carry out their ongoing campaigns of bombings and other attacks against US troops.

Some of the ordinance key to the campaign against US troops, including explosively formed penetrators that killed and injured hundreds of Americans, were delivered by Iran, he claimed at the time.

The Friday report also comes amid rising tensions between the US and Iran over Washington’s May decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal that exchanged sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. One key American argument for the decision concerned Iran’s expansion of its involvement in various conflicts in the region, as well as its burgeoning ballistic missile program.

In the meantime,  Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Iran on Friday as having slowed down its long-term force deployment in Syria.

He attributed the slow down to Israeli military intervention as well as an economic crisis gripping Tehran as U.S. sanctions are restored.

Israel, which monitors neighbouring Syria intensively, has long alleged that Iran came to assist the Damascus government in Syria’s civil war in part to set up a permanent garrison there, including advanced missile factories and air and naval bases.

The Israelis have carried out scores of air strikes in Syria targeting suspected arms and troop movements by Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas it sponsors.

The Israeli actions have been mostly ignored by Russia, Damascus’ big-power backer.

“The Iranians have reduced the scale of their activity in Syria,” Lieberman said in an interview published by Israel’s top-selling Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

He said there was “no activity, at this stage’’ in Iranian efforts to build missile production factories on Syrian soil.

“Nor have they built a port in Syria, and they have no airport there, but they have not abandoned the idea. They are continuing to negotiate with the Assad government on the creation of garrison outposts in Syria,’’ Lieberman added.

“The main reason for why this has stopped is the result of our daily, hard work in Syria.’’

Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy in the Middle East, has been a core supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the 7-year war, sending military advisers as well as materiel and regional Shi’ite militias that it backs.

This week, Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami visited Damascus and said the Islamic Republic would maintain its presence in Syria.

The countries had signed a pact for defence cooperation, including restoring Syria’s military industries.

Yedioth asked Lieberman whether Iran’s conduct in Syria was linked to its economic crisis, precipitated by the restoration of U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump exited world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

“Obviously there is heavy economic pressure on them. The budget for Iranian forces in the Middle East was 2 billion dollars, and even today less money is going to Syria and Hezbollah,” he said.

“I believe that when the second stage of the American economic sanctions starts, on Nov. 4, the situation will get worse,’’ he added, predicting that reduced funding for Hezbollah meant it “will not be able to exist in its current format’’.

Additional report from Times of Israel

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’

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The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin

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Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel

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A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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