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Baghdad says report of Iran moving missiles to Iraq is 'without evidence'

Iraqi foreign ministry and Tehran reject Reuters report saying Iran has moved ballistic missiles into neighbouring country
Iran says its missile programme is solely for defence purposes and is not negotiable as demanded by the US and European countries (AFP)

Iraq's foreign ministry has said it is "astonished" at a report by the Reuters news agency that Iran had moved missiles to Iraq and that the article was "without evidence," but stopped short of denying its contents.

The ministry said on Sunday that the reports were "without evidence" as Tehran also distanced itself from the claims. 

The statement came a day after the Iranian state news agency IRNA cited a senior defence ministry official as saying that despite US sanctions, Iran plans to increase its ballistic and cruise missile capacity and acquire modern fighter planes and submarines.

"Iraq is not obliged to respond to media reports that lack tangible evidence backing up their claims and allegations," the Iraqi foreign ministry said in Sunday's statement. 

"All state institutions in Iraq uphold Article 7 of the constitution, which prohibits the use of Iraqi land as a base or passage to be used in operations targeting the security of other states." 

An earlier Reuters report on Saturday claimed that Iran had moved missiles to Iraq, following the US pullout from Tehran's nuclear agreement with world powers.

Tehran is furious over US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the accord on Iran's nuclear programme and reimpose economic sanctions on the country, Reuters said.

Iranian officials have warned that the country will not yield to a renewed US campaign to strangle Iran's vital oil exports. They say the country's missile programme is solely for defence purposes and is not negotiable as demanded by the US and European countries.

"Increasing ballistic and cruise missile capacity... and the acquisition of next-generation fighters and heavy and long-range vessels and submarines with various weapons capabilities are among the new plans of this ministry," said Mohammad Ahadi, deputy defence minister for international affairs, IRNA reported.

Iranian state media also reported the launch earlier this week of war games involving 150,000 volunteer Basij militia members, who vowed to defend the Islamic state against "foreign threats," including the US.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier on Twitter that he was "deeply concerned" by reports that Iran was transferring ballistic missiles into Iraq.

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Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources had told Reuters that Iran has transferred ballistic missiles to Shia proxies in Iraq over the past few months and is developing the capacity to build more there.

The Times of Israel said that Iran had deployed medium-range missiles with Iraq's Shia militias that are capable of hitting Israel and that in Syria a clandestine surface-to-surface missile facility at Wadi Jahanamm will likely be completed by early 2019.

Together, the missile threats represent a creeping power-play by Tehran at the same time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted Jerusalem will continue to act against such threats, the Times said.

Iran foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi was quoted by IRNA as saying: "Such false and ridiculous news has no purpose other than affecting Iran's foreign relations, especially with its neighbours."

"This news is solely aimed at creating fears in the countries of the region," he said.

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