WASHINGTON: Iran is secretly flying surveillance drones over Iraq and sending military equipment there to help Baghdad in its fight against Sunni insurgents, The New York Times reported yesterday.
A “small fleet” of Ababil drones was deployed to the Al Rashid airfield near Baghdad, the newspaper said on its website, citing anonymous US officials. Tehran has also installed an intelligence unit at the airfield to intercept electronic communications between ISIS fighters and commanders.
Ababil drones, less sophisticated than US unmanned aircraft, are designed in Iran and have a nearly 10-foot (three-meter) wingspan. They are used for surveillance and are unarmed.
About a dozen officers of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, have also been sent to Iraq to advise Iraqi commanders and help mobilize Shia militias in the south of the country, the paper said, adding that Iran’s General Qassem Suleimani recently made two trips to Iraq. Iran is also sending two flights daily to Baghdad with 70 tons each of military equipment and supplies.
“It’s a substantial amount” of material, a US official told the newspaper. “It’s not necessarily heavy weaponry, but it’s not just light arms and ammunition.”
Meanwhile, the Iraqi prime minister has rejected the creation of a government of “national salvation” despite pleas from the US and Britain to form a more inclusive administration to fight a growing insurgency of jihadists and disaffected Sunnis. “The call to form a national emergency government is a coup against the constitution and the political process,” Nouri Al Maliki said.