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The Latest: Cleric issues edict forbidding US troops in Iraq

August 23, 2019

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Latest on the situation in Iraq, after U.S. officials confirmed Israel last month bombed a weapons depot belonging to Iran-backed Shiite militias (all times local):

5:40 p.m.

A leading Shiite Muslim cleric followed by some Iraqi militants has issued a public religious edict forbidding the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The fatwa issued Friday by Iran-based Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri comes after Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq accused the United States of being behind recent attacks on their bases and weapons depots in Iraq. Two U.S. officials have confirmed that Israel was responsible for the bombing of an Iranian-backed militia’s weapons depot on July 19.

There are around 5,000 American troops in Iraq who are there at the invitation of the government to assist and advise in the fight against the Islamic State group. Calls for their withdrawal increased after the group was defeated in 2017.

Al-Haeri called for Iraqi armed forces to “resist and confront the enemy.”

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1:20 p.m.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is warning of a “strong response” if it is proven that Israel was behind recent airstrikes in Iraq.

In statements issued by his office on Friday, he also said that if Israel continues to target Iraq, the country “will transform into a battle arena that drags in multiple countries, including Iran.”

The comments by al-Maliki, who was Iraqi prime minister for eight years and now heads a Shiite bloc in parliament, came hours after U.S. officials confirmed Israel was responsible for the bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month.

That marks a significant escalation in Israel’s years-long campaign against Iranian military entrenchment across the region.

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11 a.m.

U.S. officials have confirmed that Israel was responsible for the bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month, an attack that would mark a significant escalation in Israel’s years-long campaign against Iranian military entrenchment across the region.

The confirmation comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is strongly hinting that his country is behind recent airstrikes in Iraq.

Two American officials said Israel carried out an attack on an Iranian weapons depot that killed two Iranian military commanders. The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

There have been weeks of speculation in Israel that the army is attacking targets in Iraq.

In an interview with a Russian-language TV station on Thursday, Netanyahu indicated the speculation is true.

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