Iraqi intelligence has stated that it believes that five recent drone attacks on Iraqi paramilitary groups were launched from bases belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their territory in northern Syria, an Iraqi official informed the London-based media outlet Middle East Eye.
The strikes, which started in July and the latest of which occurred on Sunday when two unmanned aircrafts killed a fighter, have targeted areas and sites held by the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a grouping of mainly Shia militias backed by Iran and operating under the permission of the Iraqi government.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and possesses knowledge of the country’s security services’ latest intelligence briefing, reported that while the strikes were conducted by Israel, it was the SDF that had a full understanding of them and Saudi Arabia that backed them.
According to the official: “The drone attacks were launched from SDF areas with the financing and backing of the Saudis.” The area was used to launch the strikes due to Israel’s lack of range for reaching targets in Iraq, resulting in the fact that “Israeli personnel were operating the drones from SDF-controlled bases.”
This plan to strike the PMF sites was allegedly formulated back in June when the Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan visited the SDF-held territories in north-eastern Syria. Al-Sabhan, who is known to be one of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s closest advisers, also attempted to garner support from the Arab tribes in the area for the Kurdish militias and a movement for a separate Syrian state east of the Euphrates River, which the tribes overwhelmingly refused to participate in.
The PMF – formed in 2014 with the support of Iran following the rise of Daesh, the Iraqi army’s subsequent withdrawal, and instability which spilled over the Iraqi border from the Syrian conflict – originally held only Israel responsible for the strikes. There were elements in the Iraqi government and intelligence, however, which suspected that other actors were involved in the strikes due to the lack of range from Israel.
The revelation of cooperation and military coordination between Israel, the SDF, and Saudi Arabia sheds more light on the complex web of alliances in the Syrian conflict, particularly that of the increasingly warm relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel for the joint purpose of countering Iran’s influence in the Levant and Gulf region.