Explosion rocks Iran-backed militia's arms depot in Iraq

MP says the cause of the blast is likely a drone attack or a fire

Members of the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces at a military camp in Kerbala, Iraq. Reuters
Members of the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces at a military camp in Kerbala, Iraq. Reuters

An explosion ripped through an arms depot belonging to an Iran-backed militia in the western Iraqi province of Anbar on Tuesday morning.

The explosion in the city of Hit, north-west of Baghdad, is the latest in a series of blasts at the militia’s bases and munition depots around the country.

“A blast and fire occurred early this morning in the Hashed’s weapons depot. As a result rockets were launched into the neighbouring areas,” Jaber Al Jaberi, a member of parliament representing Anbar, told The National.

A curfew was imposed shortly after, Mr Al Jaberi said.

Although Iraqi security officials have yet to disclose the cause of the blast , Mr Al Jaberi said that it could be “either a drone attack or a fire”.

Casualties were reported but their numbers remained unclear.

The depot belongs to the Popular Mobilisation Forces, also known as Hashed Al Shaab, which, with Iranian training and advice, played a key role, independent of the US-led coalition, in the fight against ISIS.

It is made up of armed groups that also include some Christian and Sunni tribal units.

The militia, which became a formal part of the Iraqi armed forces in 2016, must report to the head of the government. However, it has so far failed to obey Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s orders for it to be fully integrated into the army.

Baghdad opened an investigation after a series of strikes on the militia's weapons depots last month.

One of those strikes sent rockets flying over southern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding 29 others.

Police at the time attributed the explosion to poor storage conditions and the summer heat.

Additionally, several explosions occurred at a position held by a PMF unit next to Balad air base, where US troops are present, about 80 kilometres north of Baghdad.

Some of the Hashed’s leaders have accused Israel and the US of being behind the attacks.

Israel has repeatedly said that it would take steps to stop Tehran's expansionist policy in the region, and has carried out strikes against Iranian forces in Syria to that end.

One of Israel's biggest security concerns is the possibility that Iran could transfer rockets by land to its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon that could then be used to attack it.

Several PMF leaders are now on the US terrorism blacklist.

Washington has put pressure on Baghdad to rein in the group, which it says poses a threat to US interests in Iraq.

There is concern that Iraq could be a potential arena for violent regional confrontations between the US and Iran because of the presence of the militia, which has operations close to bases hosting US forces.

Updated: September 10, 2019 05:05 PM


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