Nouri Al Maliki issues warning to Israel after Iraq bombing

The US named Israel as the perpetrator of the July 19 strike on Friday

Members of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) carry their weapons as they shout slogans at their headquarters in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraq could descend into a "battle arena" if Israel continues to target the country, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has warned, after the US confirmed Israeli responsibility for the bombing of a weapons depot belonging to a pro-Iran militia.

The Associated Press reported Israel carried out the July 19 strike on an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq in which two Iranian military commanders were killed.

The huge explosion in Iraq’s northern Salaheddin province caused a fire at the base which, at the time, housed advisers from Iran and Lebanon with links to the Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah. Two Iranian military commanders were killed in the blasts.

Hours after US officials confirmed Israel was behind the attack, Mr Al Maliki said there would be a “strong response” if it is proven that Israel was behind recent airstrikes in Iraq.

In statements issued by his office on Friday, he also said that if Israel continues to target Iraq, the country “will transform into a battle arena that drags in multiple countries, including Iran.”

The attacks mark a significant expansion of Israel’s wider military engagement in the region. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had strongly hinted the country was behind the recent attacks on pro-Iran militias in Iraq.

"We act in many arenas against a country that desires to annihilate us," Mr Netanyahu said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 9 on Thursday.

"Of course, I gave the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed to thwart these plans of Iran," he added.

The strike is the first known Israeli bomb attack on Iraq since 1981 when Israeli warplanes hit a nuclear reactor under construction under Saddam Hussein.

Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) had threatened to attack American bases in the country if the strikes on their warehouses continued. The US denied any involvement in the blasts.

Kataib Hezbollah, one of a wide range of different Iraqi paramilitary forces that sprung up across the country in 2014, said on Thursday that it would target the “American enemy” over the explosions.

“Your forts will not protect you as they are all within our missiles' reach," the brigade stated in a message on messaging platform.