Pro-Iranian Iraqi militia threatens missile attacks on US bases after arms depot explosions

The Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah threaten to strike back despite the US denying any involvement

A members of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) walks past a poster of PMF members at Popular Mobilization Forces Media Center in Baghdad, Iraq July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily
Powered by automated translation

A powerful pro-Iranian militia in Iraq has threatened to attack American bases if explosions such as those at four of its warehouses continued, despite the US denying any involvement.

The Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah, which operates under the pro-Iran Popular Mobilisation Forces, whose warehouses were targets in the attacks, threatened on Thursday to strike back.

“We are sending a final warning to the American enemy that any new targeting will be followed with a decisive and harsh response," the group said on messaging platform Telegram.

“Your forts will not protect you as they are all within our missiles' reach."

The statement follows explosions between July 19 and August 20 at PMF ammunition warehouses.

"The US is not involved in the recent warehouse explosions in Iraq," a US defence official told The National. 

He said the American presence in Iraq was to support efforts against terror groups such as ISIS, and that Washington was adhering to new Iraqi government directives.

Those directives, issued after the first two explosions, require all aircraft to seek permission before flying in Iraqi airspace.

Satellite imagery was released on Thursday of the attack this week that hit near the Balad air base in Salaheddin province:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government is a main suspect behind the attacks, did not deny responsibility in an appearance on Channel 9 on Thursday.

"We act in many arenas against a country that desires to annihilate us," Mr Netanyahu said.

"Of course, I gave the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed to thwart these plans of Iran."

But this escalation risks dragging US interests and troops in Iraq into the crossfire of possible retaliations between Israel and pro-Iran militias.

Ryan Bohl, a Mena region analyst at US intelligence firm Stratfor, said the escalation represented “a real problem for both the US and Iran".

"The PMF can have a degree of independence that can raise the risk for both, even though neither wants a war triggered by Israeli strikes in Iraq," Mr Bohl told The National. 

He said there was a real risk that Kataib Hezbollah would act against the US or one of its allies in Iraq.

“The major risk is that they decide to follow through [against the US] without Iran’s consent,” Mr Bohl said.

“If Iran gets blamed and American lives are hurt or killed, we will find ourselves in a very tense situation.”