Explosion rocks arms depot of Iran-backed militia near Baghdad

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In this Aug. 12, 2019 photo, plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

Officials say blast occurred near air base housing US trainers; previous explosions targeting munitions warehouses in Iraq have been blamed on Israel

By AP and TOI STAFF 20 August 2019, 8:18 pm

A large explosion hit an arms depot belonging to an Iranian-backed militia faction north of Baghdad on Tuesday, the latest in a series of mysterious blasts at military bases and munitions depots around the country in the past few weeks.

The explosions have occurred in bases and warehouses belonging to militia groups under the umbrella of the mainly Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. The state-sanctioned PMF militias have fought alongside Iraq’s regular armed forces against the Islamic State extremist group.

The Iraqi Civil Defense said in a statement that Tuesday’s blast occurred near Balad air base, one of the country’s largest, which is home to US trainers and is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad. It said its members were trying to control a fire caused by the blast.

A Shiite militia group is stationed nearby.

Iraqi security forces’ vehicles are seen at the delivery ceremony of four new US- made F-16 fighter jets at Balad air base, 75 kilometers (45 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

The officials who confirmed the explosion spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

They said the blast occurred in a depot belonging to the PMF and that an investigation was underway.

The mysterious blasts have given rise to a host of theories, including that Israel may have conducted an airstrike.

No one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s blast or other recent explosions.

In July, an explosion took place at a PMF base in Amirli, in Iraq’s northern Salaheddin province, killing two Iranians and causing a huge fire.

Last week, a massive explosion was also reported at the al-Saqr military base.

Israel has struck Iranian bases in neighboring Syria on numerous occasions, and there has been speculation that it might be expanding its campaign to target Iranian bases to Iraq. However, neither the Iraqi government nor Israel have addressed the reports.

Satellite photo of a weapons depot in southern Baghdad controlled by a pro-Iranian militia that was hit in an alleged Israeli operation on August 12, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Israeli officials have identified Iraq as a likely growing base of operations for Iran-backed efforts against the Jewish state. But Israeli officials have so far neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the strikes.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted that Israel was behind recent airstrikes in Iraq, stressing that the Jewish state would continue to act militarily whenever and wherever there is a need to do so.

“Iran has no immunity, anywhere,” he told reporters during a briefing in Kyiv in response to a question about the attacks on military installations in Iraq.

SOURCE: TIMES OF ISRAEL

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