MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : Iraq closes airspace to stop Israeli strikes on pro-Iranian militia sites

18 August 2019 – DEBKA FILES ISRAEL 

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has issued an unprecedented order placing Iraqi air space off limits to all aircraft without his personal authorization. The decree issued on Friday, Aug. 16 was one of three steps Baghdad has taken to put a stop to Israeli air strikes on pro-Iranian Shiite militia targets, whether by jets, drones or missiles.
The three steps revealed here by DEBKAfile are:

  1. An investigation to get to the bottom of the explosions on Aug. 12 that destroyed the ammunition depot at Al Saqr (or Camp Falcon as it is called by the e Americans) I in South Baghdad. Flying Katyusha ammo and mortar shell fragments killed at least one in the city and injured scores of others.
    Al Saqr is the command center of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), the largest Shiite militia in Iraq, which is led by Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, a lieutenant of the Iranian Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
    One source reported on Saturday that evidence had been found in the ruins of an attack by missiles fired from drones. Another source countered that the camp had not been attacked but was destroyed by a fire. The prime minister has given the investigators a week to submit their findings.
    Before this event, the Israeli Air Force is known to have struck two Shiite militia sites in Iraq by multiple incoming aircraft or UAVS. The first, on July 19, targeted the Hash Haabi militia’s 52nd Brigade, a subsidiary of the Bader Brigades – both loyal to Iran – in Salahuddin province near the town of Amerli northeast of Baghdad. The second, on July 28, raided Camp Ashraf, in the Diyala Governorate near the Iranian border and 40km north of Baghdad.
  2. The Iraqi prime minister has given the pro-Iranian militias one month to remove their camps and ammunition stocks from the country’s main cities. By complying with this order, Iran’s armed Shiite pawns would lose their main strongholds in Baghdad and other important Iraqi cities. However, they have consistently flouted such orders in the past.
  3. Abdul-Mahdi, who as prime minister officiates also as commander in chief of Iraq’s armed forces, stated explicitly that no aircraft of any kind may enter Iraqi air space without permission from him in person or an official appointed by him. “All special aviation permits to enter Iraqi air space granted to Iraqi or non-Iraqi entities are hereby cancelled, including “reconnaissance, armed reconnaissance, fighter aircraft, helicopters and drones of all kinds.” The decree went on to specify: “Any air traffic lacking this permission will be considered hostile and targeted by Iraqi air defenses immediately.”

The US forces command, which maintains several large air bases in Iraq with thousands of military personnel, responded: “We are guests within Iraq’s sovereign borders,” and therefore, “The US-led coalition has immediately complied with all the directives received from our Iraqi partners as they implement the prime minister’s order.”

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Abdul-Mahdi’s actions are far from being plain sailing. In the first place, Iraq is not armed with the advanced air defense systems capable of identifying or downing Israel’s F-35 stealth aircraft. In the second, how can he stop Turkish Air Force intrusions of Iraqi air space for ongoing raids of Kurdish PKK bases in northern Iraq, a region in which Baghdad maintains no air defense units?

This predicament has an unexpected twist: The Turks have recently began using Israel-made Heron UAVs in those raids. The Iraqi air force is not up to identifying whether an incoming drone belongs to the Turkish or the Israeli air force.