Iraq denounces mysterious Syria airstrike attributed to Israel

Source: Iraq denounces mysterious Syria airstrike attributed to Israel | The Times of Israel

Iraqi military denies positioning Iran-backed fighters in Syrian territory after paramilitary group says 22 of its members among the dead

Iraqi forces, supported by members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization units), advance in the western desert in the northern Iraqi region of al-Hadar, 105 kilometers south of Mosul, on November 23, 2017, as they attempt to flush out remaining Islamic State group fighters (AFP/Stringer)

Iraqi forces, supported by members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization units), advance in the western desert in the northern Iraqi region of al-Hadar, 105 kilometers south of Mosul, on November 23, 2017, as they attempt to flush out remaining Islamic State group fighters (AFP/Stringer)

Iraq on Tuesday denounced an airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel in which over 50 pro-regime fighters, including some 20 members of an Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group, were killed.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said it “expresses rejection and condemnation of any air operations targeting forces in areas where they are fighting ISIS, whether in Iraq or Syria or any other area where there is a battlefield against this enemy that threatens humanity,” according to the Reuters news agency.

The ministry also called for countries to work together against “extremist groups.”

The bombing raid hit Al-Hari, a town near the Iraqi border controlled by regional militias fighting in Syria’s seven-year war alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Both Syrian authorities and Iraqi forces pointed the finger at the US-led coalition, which denied it was involved in Sunday night’s attack.

“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity on Monday.

Illustrative: A masked fighter of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries poses for a picture carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle by defensive positions on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, on February 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

Israel declined to comment, but a strike so far from its border would veer from most other raids in Syria that are attributed to Israel, which have largely taken place closer to Syria’s borders with Israel and Lebanon.

The target, apparently Shiite Iraqi militia fighters loyal to Assad, would also mark a shift for Israel, which has previously only carried out airstrikes against Iran’s forces and its proxies, according to reports.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel was “taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria. We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”

Sunday’s raid slammed into a regime-controlled position in the border town and left at least 52 fighters dead, according to a Britain-based monitor.

Among them were fighters from Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi military alliance, some of whom have crossed into Syria to fight against IS.

The Iran-backed Hashed claimed that “US planes fired two guided missiles at a fixed position of Hashed al-Shaabi units on the border with Syria, killing 22 fighters and wounding 12.”

The bodies of three Iraqi fighters killed in the raid were returned to their hometowns for burial, said AFP’s correspondent in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 30 Iraqi forces were among the dead in Al-Hari, as well as 16 Syrian forces and six unidentified fighters.

Hashed said its fighters had been deployed along the porous frontier with Syria on the orders of the Iraqi authorities.

However, late Monday the Iraqi military command denied it had positioned forces in Syrian territory, implying the dead fighters had acted without its consent.

Regretting the deaths, the command said it had been assured by the coalition that it was not responsible for the strikes.

Hashed is vital to the fight against IS in Iraq, but has also battled the jihadists across the border in their eastern Syria bastions.

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