LONDON - Britain is to open a new military base in Bahrain, both countries announced, its first permanent base in the Middle East since it formally withdrew from the region in 1971.

The new base is part of a deal to increase cooperation in tackling security threats in the Middle East, ministers said Friday. Gulf States including Bahrain have found common ground with the United States and European powers in opposing Islamic State militants, and its crown prince on Friday urged war on ‘evil theocracy’.

The tiny island kingdom is part of a US-led coalition carrying out airstrikes on the IS extremist group, which has carved out vast areas of control in Syria and Iraq. The agreement was reached at the annual Manama Dialogue regional security summit in Bahrain. It means Britain will have a place to plan and to store equipment and will be able to add to the four mine-hunter warships based in Mina Salman Port, where Britain currently uses US facilities.

It will cost £15 million to build ($23 million, 19 million euros). ‘This new base is a permanent expansion of the Royal Navy's footprint and will enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the Gulf,’ said defence secretary Michael Fallon. ‘We will now be based again in the Gulf for the long term.’ Britain withdrew from bases in the Gulf in 1971 as part of its plan to pull out from ‘East of Suez’.

Nicholas Houghton, head of the British armed forces, told BBC radio: ‘It's the strategic importance of this. Rather than just being seen as a temporary deployment to an area for a specific operational purpose, this is more symbolic of the fact that Britain does enjoy interests in the stability of this region.’ Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid al-Khalifa said the deal ‘reaffirms our joint determination to maintain regional security and stability in the face of challenging circumstances’.

‘Bahrain looks forward to the early implementation of today's arrangement, and to continuing to work with the UK and other partners to address threats to regional security,’ Khalid said. Britain ended its troop presence in southern Iraq in 2009, leaving their bases in Basra built after the 2003 invasion. Britain retains two sovereign bases on Cyprus in the Mediterranean. Under the agreement, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said onshore facilities at the Mina Salman Port in Bahrain, where Britain bases four mine-hunter warships on a permanent basis, would be improved. The base, which will now be expanded to include a new forward operating base and a place to plan, store equipment for naval operations and accommodate Royal Navy personnel, is used to support British Destroyers and Frigates in the Gulf.

‘This new base is a permanent expansion of the Royal Navy's footprint and will enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the Gulf,’ said British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. ‘We will now be based again in the Gulf for the long term.’ The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is also based in Bahrain.

Moreover, a senior Iranian official has confirmed his country carried out air strikes in neighbouring Iraq against Islamic State fighters at the request of Iraqi authorities, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported. It quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour as saying the strikes were not coordinated with the United States, which is also waging an air campaign against the radical Sunni Muslim militants who control large parts of north and west Iraq.

The purpose of the strikes was ‘the defence of the interests of our friends in Iraq‘, the newspaper quoted Rahimpour as saying in an interview in London. ‘We did not have any coordination with the Americans. We have coordinated only with the Iraqi government,’ he said. ‘In general, every military operation to help the Iraqi government is according to their requests.’ Rahimpour's reported comments were the first from an Iranian official confirming Iran's role in the air strikes in the Iraqi province of Diyala, which borders Iran, in late November. On Wednesday an Iranian official had denied that Iran had launched any such strikes.

Diyala is an ethnically mixed province, where the Iraqi army, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga and Shi'ite militias drove Islamic State out of several towns and villages last month. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Wednesday he had no knowledge of Iranian air strikes. On Saturday, Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a security conference in Bahrain: ‘It's not 100 percent confirmed.’

The Iranian role was first highlighted in footage filmed by Al Jazeera television, which appeared to show an F-4 Phantom striking Islamic State positions in Diyala. Defence experts said Iran and Turkey were the only regional operators of the F-4, and Turkey is reluctant to take on Islamic State militarily. ‘We will not allow conditions in Iraq to descend to the level of Syria, which has been created by foreign players,’ the Guardian quoted Rahimpour as saying, referring to Syria's catastrophic three-year war in which Iran supports President Bashar al-Assad against rebels including Islamic State.

‘And certainly our assistance (to Iraq) is stronger than our assistance to Syria, because they are nearer to us,’ he said. Rahimpour said Iran was also assisting Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, but repeated Tehran's insistence that it did not have any ground troops in Iraq. ‘This is only an advisory presence. There is no need to send Iranian troops to Iraq. There are sufficient Iraqi and Kurdish troops there,’ he said.