Tehran assails US deployment of Patriot missiles in Iraq, claims to speak for Baghdad
The deployment by the United States of Patriot air-defence missiles is proving to be a new contentious issue between Washington and Tehran.
The United States had been in talks with Baghdad about the proposed deployment since January but it was not immediately clear whether it had secured its approval or not.
The Patriot system is Washington’s principal anti-missile missile system.
Its deployment to Iraq comes after a spate of rocket and other attacks on bases and other facilities used by US personnel that Washington has blamed on Tehran-backed Shia proxies or Tehran itself.
One of the Patriot batteries was delivered to the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq at the end of March and is now being assembled, a US defence official and an Iraqi military source said.
Ain al-Asad was hit by a retaliatory Iranian missile strike in January after a US drone killed Tehran’s foreign operations chief Major-General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike just outside Baghdad airport.
A second battery was deployed to a base in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Two more are still in Kuwait, where Washington has rear bases for its operations in Iraq, the US official said.
Iran, which wields huge influence in its western neighbour’s politics, is using Iraq as a battleground against US interests with the help of allied Shia militias.
Claiming to speak for Baghdad, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said the US deployment runs “counter to the official position of the Iraqi government, parliament and people.”
US forces, it added, should “respect the wishes of the Iraqi people and government and leave the country.”
Iran is in the throes of one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks with more than 3,000 fatalities. The US death toll has now surpassed Iran’s, topping 4,000.
Iraqi leaders have resisted US deployment of the advanced weapons system for fear that it would anger Iran and further ratchet up tensions between its two main allies.
On March 30, Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdel-Mahdi, warned against any “offensive military action without the approval of the Iraqi government.” He did not specifically mention the Patriot deployment.
(With news agencies).