U.S. Officials Say Iraq Blasts Attributed to Israel May Be Due to 'Raging Heat'

Trump administration officials speaking to Bloomberg repudiate earlier claims by officials who told the New York Times that Israel is likely behind strikes in Iraq

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Plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq, August 12, 2019.
Plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq, August 12, 2019. Credit: Loay Hameed,AP

Israel is not necessarily responsible for recent airstrikes on Iranian-linked sites in Iraq, U.S. officials told Bloomberg on Friday, adding that the cause of the explosions could be the “absolutely raging heat in Baghdad over the summer.”

Two Trump administration officials said there is no corroboration Israel carried the attacks, repudiating an earlier New York Times report which cited senior American intelligence officials who said that Israel is responsible for several strikes in Iraq, including a July 19 strike north of Baghdad on a base used by Iran's Revolutionary Guards to "transfer weapons to Syria."

Officials told Bloomberg that the real culprit as Iran, which is trying to turn Iraq into a client state of Syria, and is entrusting weapons in the hands of militias who cannot control them.

>> Read more: Unhappy with Iraq strikes, U.S. outs Israel | Analysis 

A series of blasts in the past few weeks have hit weapon depots and bases belonging to paramilitary groups of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of Iraq's Shi'ite militias, many of them backed by Iran. The PMF blamed the United States and Israel for the blasts.

In an interview with Russian-language Israeli television Channel 9, broadcast on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked whether Israel would operate against Iranian targets in Iraq if needed. The premier's response was that israel was 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." Netanyahu did not directly name Iraq as one of those areas.

As tensions between Washington and Tehran increase, Iraq finds itself caught between neighboring Iran, whose regional influence has grown in recent years, and its ally the United States.

American officials who spoke to the Times on Friday warned that heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iraq may lead Baghdad to demand that Washington withdraw its troops from the country.