The Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), an umbrella organization of Iran-backed Shiite militia groups in Iraq, claimed responsibility on Monday for attacking Israel’s Red Sea port city of Eilat.
The Israeli military said it intercepted what appeared to be a lone unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) before it could cause any damage, but the incident added to pressure on the recalcitrant Iraqi government to do something about Iran’s terrorist proxy forces.
“The Mujahideen of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq targeted a target in the occupied Umm al-Rashrash, Eilat with appropriate weapons,” the IRI said in a statement on Monday, claiming credit for an attack perpetrated on Sunday night.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Sunday said its planes “intercepted a hostile aircraft that was on route to Israeli territory from the east a short while ago.”
“The target was under IDF surveillance and did not penetrate into Israeli territory,” the statement said.
The IRI also claimed responsibility for a Sunday drone attack against a U.S. base near Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The Kurdish counter-terrorism directorate said this drone was “destroyed and shot down.”
On Saturday night, two explosive-laden suicide drones struck a base near Erbil used by the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia. The attack did not inflict any casualties.
Attacks in the Kurdistan region have increased tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government in Baghdad. When KRG spokesperson Peshawa Hawramani announced the suicide drone strike against the Peshmerga base, the statement included a healthy dose of criticism for the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.
“We hold those groups and the federal government responsible for these cowardly attacks, because these outlaw groups are armed by and receive salaries from the federal government, and they roam around before the eyes of the Iraqi government, transporting weapons, rockets, and drones and carrying out terrorist attacks on official and military institutions,” the statement said.
Hawramani said Sudani’s administration has been “silent and incompetent” against the Shiite militias, but sarcastically noted Baghdad officials are quite “brave” when it comes to cutting “the livelihood of the people of Kurdistan” so it can pour money into the militias.
The militia groups were legitimized and semi-conscripted into fighting against the Islamic State, under the name “Popular Mobilization Forces” or PMF, and quickly grew into one of the largest and best-funded paramilitary organizations in Iraq. The KRG has long accused Baghdad of failing to pay the salaries of civil servants, a dispute that erupted into angry protests in September.
“The attack on the Peshmerga, as an official force and part of the federal Iraqi defense system, is a dangerous and unacceptable development that threatens the peace and stability of Iraq,” added the KRG presidency in its own statement.
KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said he was “deeply alarmed” by the attacks on the Erbil region.
“I condemn these outlaws and their collaborators in the strongest terms possible,” Barzani said.
“We know well the issues at play here, and the outlaws behind them, and have a right to defend our people,” he asserted.
Barzani demanded the central government treat “any attack on the Kurdistan region as an attack on all of Iraq, and respond with the appropriate action.”
The KRG also issued statements that there are no “Zionist” bases in its territory, a claim often made by the IRI when it launches attacks against bases that house U.S. and allied forces.
Criticism from the KRG may have finally spurred Sudani to take action after weeks of fruitless pleading from the Biden administration. Soon after Barzani posted his comments, Sudani ordered Iraq’s security agencies to investigate the drone attack against the Peshmerga base, in cooperation with Kurdish officials.
Sudani publicly denounced the attack as a violation of Iraq’s “national sovereignty” and an attempt to “tamper with internal security and stability,” which is language he normally reserves for limited U.S. retaliatory airstrikes against the Shiite militias.
Baghdad also lashed out angrily against KRG criticism, especially Hawramani’s feisty statement on Sunday.
“The federal government expresses its astonishment at the statement of the spokesperson for the government of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which included various unfounded and irresponsible accusations, mixing misleading information and baseless lies,” a spokesperson for Sudani’s administration said.
The statement from Baghdad specifically denied Hawramani’s allegations that the federal government has failed to meet its financial obligations to the KRG so it could fund Shiite militia groups.