Iraq Blasts Alleged Israeli Air Strike in Syria on Forces 'Fighting ISIS'

Syria state television claimed the U.S. was behind an attack which killed 22 of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces, while CNN reported Monday, citing a U.S. official, that in fact Israel was behind the attack

Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) march during a military parade in Daquq, nearby Kirkuk, Iraq August 5, 2017
REUTERS/Ako Rasheed/File Photo

Iraq on Tuesday condemned air strikes targeting forces fighting Islamic State in Iraq or Syria after Syrian state media said that U.S.-led coalition aircraft had bombed a Syrian army position near the Iraqi border, causing deaths and injuries.

The U.S. military denied it was responsible, while CNN reported Monday, citing a U.S. official, that in fact Israel was behind the attack. 

In a statement, Iraq's Foreign Ministry said that 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."

The statement added that the ministry reiterates its call for all countries to stand together to face these "extremist groups," and it sees the necessity for an international coalition to coordinate regularly and accurately with the forces fighting these groups as well as to offer help and support.

Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces, a grouping of mostly Iran-backed Shi'ite paramilitaries, also said on Monday a U.S. air strike on the Iraqi border with Syria killed 22 of its members and wounded 12 others.

However, an Iraqi military statement later said no Popular Mobilisation Forces or other Iraqi troops tasked with securing the Iraqi-Syrian border had been hit by the air strike, and it had taken place inside Syria.

The attack took place in al-Harra, southeast of the town of Albu Kamal, state news agency SANA said, citing a military source. SANA said the attack caused an unspecified number of deaths and injuries.

A commander in the alliance fighting alongside Damascus told Reuters that drones that were "probably American" had bombed the positions of Iraqi factions between Albu Kamal and Tanf, as well as Syrian military positions.

'Occupying forces'

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said unidentified planes had struck Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah and other allied foreign militias around Albu Kamal.

The UK-based Observatory said the strikes had killed 52 people. Reuters could not independently verify the Observatory's report of casualties.

Asked about the reported air strikes, an Israeli military spokeswoman said: "We do not comment on foreign reports."

Throughout Syria's seven-year war, Israel has carried out scores of strikes within the neighbouring country against what it describes as Hezbollah or Iranian targets.

Israel, alarmed about the clout of arch enemies Iran and Hezbollah, has pressed Russia, Assad's other key ally, to make sure Tehran does not entrench its military sway in Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet he had "repeated and clarified" his Syria policy in weekend phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"First of all, Iran must clear out of all of Syria," Netanyahu said on Sunday, according to a statement from his office. "Secondly, we will take action, and are already taking action, against the attempted military entrenchment of Iran and its proxies, both close to the border and deep within Syria."

In an interview last week, Assad called Hezbollah "a basic element" in the war and said "the need for these military forces will continue for a long time".

He said the United States was an occupying power in Syria and that his state supported "any act of resistance, whether against terrorists or against occupying forces, regardless of their nationality."