Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi on Monday said that "investigations into the targeting of some Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) positions indicate that Israel carried it out," marking the first time he has spoken so clearly about a series of mysterious attacks since July that have targeted munitions facilities of the PMF.
Previously, voices in Iraq have sought to blame Israel but have been reticent to do so clearly. Elements within the PMU – a group of mostly Shi'ite militias, some of which are closely tied to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – have instead held the US responsible, claiming the US allowed Israel to carry out the attacks.
So why would Abdul-Mahdi, who faces many challenges at home, decide to blame Israel now?
It appears that the Iraqi prime minister is blaming Israel at this juncture, because he is being targeted for criticism for removing a key member of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), Lt.-Gen. Abdul Wahab Al-Saadi, who was a popular deputy commander of the CTS – Iraq's most elite unit – and who played a key role defeating ISIS.
However, he was suddenly sidelined last week and the prime minister is being criticized across the political spectrum. However Abdul-Mahdi's office has said the decision is irreversible and insisted that Al-Saadi must adhere to it.
In addition, rumors have been spread against the commander, suggesting he visited foreign embassies. Abdul-Mahdi sought to blame the CTS for the decision on Monday, suggesting that the chief of staff wanted Al-Saadi out of the way.
The Iraqi prime minister has said that "no one wants war in the region except for Israel." However, a large context looms. He was recently in Saudi Arabia and is now supposed to travel to Iran.
Iran's IRGC head Hossein Salami spoke on Monday, threatening to destroy Israel. In addition Iran's Tasnim is taking credit for getting the US to re-position air force assets away from Qatar, claiming its drones scare the Americans.
In addition, Iraq and Syria re-opened a border crossing at Albukamal on Monday close to an alleged Iranian base that has been targeted. The PMU will be responsible for security on the Iraqi side, according to locals.
It is difficult not to see a link among Albukamal, Salami, the US air force in Qatar and the comments about Israel.
This is all about how Iran perceives the region and how its allies in Baghdad also see the region. For Abdul-Mahdi it was a good time to point a finger at Israel, because Iran is positioning itself into a place of strength.
"Our enemies are weakened," said Salami in his speech. The enemy is retreating, Iran says, arguing that the "destruction of the Zionists" is not longer just a dream.
Iran's president went to Armenia on September 30 and said Tehran wants closer ties with its neighbors. Syria says it rejects foreign meddling in its affairs. Salami threatens Israel.
Iranian media emphasizes that Saudi Arabia does not want conflict, despite the attack on its facilities on September 14. Iran is preparing a full-court press against Israel. The comments by Baghdad blaming Israel for airstrikes comes in that context.
Seth Frantzman, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.