BAGHDAD (AP) – The explosives-laden drones that struck Saudi Arabia’s royal palace in the kingdom’s capital last month were launched from inside Iraq, a senior official in the Iranian-backed militia in Baghdad and a U.S. official said. .
Speaking to The Associated Press this week, the militia official said three drones were launched from Iraq-Saudi border areas by a relatively unknown Iran-backed faction in Iraq and crashed into the royal compound in Riyadh on 23 September. January, exacerbating regional tensions.
Attacks on the Saudi capital have been sporadic amid the kingdom’s year-long war against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. Earlier this month, rebels attacked an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia with bomb-laden drones, causing a civilian plane on the runway to catch fire.
However, Iran-aligned Houthi rebels denied carrying out the attack that targeted Saudi Arabia’s Yamama Palace on January 23.
The senior Iraqi militia official’s comments mark the first time that an Iranian-backed group has acknowledged that Iraq was the origin of the attack, and points to the challenge facing Baghdad in stopping attacks by factions of Iran-backed militias in Iraq. .
It followed a claim of responsibility allegedly issued by a little-known group called Awliya Wa’ad al-Haq, or “The True Promise Brigades,” which circulated on social media and called it retaliation for a suicide bombing claimed by the group Estado Islamic. in a commercial district of Baghdad on January 21.
The militia official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the attack, said the drones arrived “in parts of Iran and were assembled in Iraq, and were launched from Iraq.” It did not reveal where the drones were launched on the border and did not provide further details about the group alleging the attack.
Iranian-backed groups have been divided significantly since the Washington-led attack that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad more than a year ago. Both were key to commanding and controlling a wide range of Iranian-backed groups operating in Iraq.
Since his death, the militias have grown increasingly rebellious and disparate. Some Washington-based analysts argue that the militias have split only to allow them to claim attacks under different names to mask their involvement.
A US official said Washington believes the Jan. 23 attack on the Yamama Palace was launched from inside Iraq. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate or say how the United States came to this conclusion.
An Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with the regulations, said US intelligence was shared with the Iraqi government.
Launching an attack from Iraq would challenge Saudi air defenses, now focused on threats from Iran to the northeast and Yemen from the south. These drones are also small enough and fly close enough to the ground to be undetected by radar.
The attack comes as Iraq seeks to deepen economic ties with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies through a variety of investment projects. Last week, Iraqi President Barham Salih visited the United Arab Emirates and Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein visited Saudi Arabia this week, ostensibly to discuss the attack.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington and Samya Kullab in Baghdad contributed to this report.