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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 8 March 2021

ISIS bombed high-voltage power lines near Baghdad, Iraqi military claims

US denies involvement in the attack that took place in an area dominated by militia groups

An ISIS attack on electricity pylons in an area south of Baghdad held by Iran-backed hardline militia Kataib Hezbollah caused several explosions on Tuesday, official and militia sources told The National.

The incident in Jurf Al Sakhar, 65 kilometres south of Baghdad, was first reported as air strikes, but militias in the area, the Iraqi government and the US, which has troops in the country, denied this.

No deaths or injuries were reported.

"Several electric power transmission towers in the Bahbahani area, north of the Babil governorate, were attacked and sabotaged by ISIS gangs. This was initially interpreted as air strikes," the Iraqi military said.

A security operation was launched after the attack to find militants.

ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the attacks or commented on the accusation that they carried out the attack.

Despite the government announcing victory over ISIS in 2017, remnants and cells of the group still regularly stage hit-and-run attacks or plant explosives across the country.

Several reports stated that security forces in the governorate had come under attack, but military sources refuted the claim.

Air strikes on Iran-backed groups in Iraq – in pictures

Reports initially suggested that the US had conducted air strikes on the area, targeting Iranian backed militia groups. However, Capt Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, told The National that Washington was not involved.

The explosions "are not and were not the results of any US military action", he said.

"I have seen reports of the explosion but have no independent knowledge of it," Capt Urban said.

Yehya Rasool, a spokesman for the Iraqi military, also said the reports of attacks on Iraqi security forces were wrong.

Jurf Al Sakhar was one of the main strongholds for Sunni militant groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq following the US-led invasion of 2003.

It came under the control of the insurgents in June 2014, but they were driven out a few months later by security forces.

Thousands of Sunnis who fled the town have been unable to return as it is under the control of powerful Iran-backed Shiite militias, including Kataib Hezbollah. There are few government forces in the area.

Sunni politicians have repeatedly called for their community to return.

The attack is the latest by ISIS against Iraq's electricity infrastructure in remote areas as it seeks to destabilise the government.

High voltage power lines in remote areas such as the eastern province of Diyala and the northern provinces of Kirkuk and Salahuddin have been blown up, causing massive power outages, according to security forces.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted his recollection of an attempted storming of the US embassy by Iran-backed militias and their supporters in December 2019 as news emerged of the explosions.

“When violent protesters attacked the US Embassy on New Year’s Eve 2019, US State Department special agents defended the compound against the mob for more than 40 hours, with no loss of life or serious injuries,” Mr Pompeo said.

The US and Iran came close to war after the US targeted Iran-backed militia groups in late 2019 in response to attacks on US forces.

Washington launched an air strike just outside Baghdad's airport that killed Iranian general Qassem Suleimani and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis on January 3 last year.

In retaliation, Tehran fired rockets at Iraqi bases hosting American forces, causing brain injuries to dozens of soldiers.

Over the past year, Iranian allies in Iraq have attacked and killed US and international troops, and attacked the Baghdad embassy. The US has retaliated by launching air strikes against militia groups.

Baghdad accuses “outlaw groups” of launching the attacks, but Washington blames Iran-backed militias. The attacks have often been claimed by fringe and formerly little heard of groups that experts say are a smokescreen for the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella grouping of militias sanctioned by the government but often supported and funded by Iran.

Updated: January 19, 2021 07:13 PM

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