PARIS/BAGHDAD – Iran has given ballistic missiles to Shiite proxies in Iraq and is developing the capacity to build more there to deter attacks on its interests in the Middle East and to give it the means to hit regional foes, Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources said. Any sign that Iran is preparing a more aggressive missile policy in Iraq will exacerbate tensions between Tehran and Washington, already heightened by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. It would also embarrass France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the three European signatories to the nuclear deal, as they have been trying to salvage the agreement despite new U.S. sanctions against Tehran. Five of the officials said it was helping those groups to start making their own. "The logic was to have a backup plan if Iran was attacked," one senior Iranian official said.
IRBIL, IRAQ/SULAIMANIA IRAQ – Kurds voted in large numbers in an independence referendum in northern Iraq on Monday, ignoring pressure from Baghdad, threats from Turkey and Iran, and international warnings that the vote may ignite yet more regional conflict. The vote organized by Kurdish authorities is expected to deliver a comfortable "yes" for independence, but is not binding. However, it is designed to give Masoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a mandate to negotiate the secession of the oil-producing region. Turnout was 76 percent an hour before voting closed, the Kurdish Rudaw TV station said, later adding that vote counting had started. Final results are expected within 72 hours.
WASHINGTON – Iran has stepped up weapons transfers to the Houthis, the militia fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, U.S., Western and Iranian officials said, a development that threatens to prolong and intensify the 19-month-old war. The increased pace of transfers in recent months, which officials said include missiles and small arms, could exacerbate a security headache for the United States, which last week struck Houthi targets with cruise missiles in retaliation for failed missile attacks on a U.S. Navy destroyer. Much of the recent smuggling activity has been through Oman, which neighbors Yemen, including via overland routes that take advantage of porous borders between the two countries, the officials said. That creates a further quandary for Washington, which views the tiny Persian Gulf state as a strategic interlocutor and ally in the conflict-ridden region. A senior U.S. administration official said that Washington had informed Oman of its concerns, without specifying when.
Russia has said its use of an Iranian airbase to carry out bombing missions in Syria does not violate a UN resolution that forbids supplying warplanes to Tehran. "No supplying, selling or transferring of warplanes to Iran has occurred," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday in comments reported by the Russian state news agency TASS. Lavrov was referring to comments by US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, who said on Tuesday that Russia might be violating UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by using Iranian territory to launch air strikes in Syria. The resolution prohibits the supply, sale or transfer of combat aircraft to Iran unless approved in advance by the UN Security Council. Toner also described Russia's move as "unfortunate but not surprising or unexpected", saying the air strikes that purport to target the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant in Syria in actuality "predominately target moderate Syrian opposition forces".
The Syrian civil war has been the main point of contention in Turkey's relations with the United States ever since the Obama administration officially outsourced much of the fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group to the People's Protection Units (YPG) in 2015. The way Obama chose to deal with the ISIL threat in Syria was a source of concern for Turkey for three reasons. First, the YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a terror group which has waged a bloody war in Turkey since the 1980s that has left at least 40,000 dead. By training and arming a group that poses a direct threat to Turkey, Washington conveyed the message that it did not care about a NATO ally's security concerns. Second, by backing a terror group like the YPG, the US unwittingly blurred the line between legitimate players, such as the moderate Free Syrian Army, and unlawful combatants in the region.