Iraq probe of Baghdad blast last week says drone strike set it off

Iraq probe of Baghdad blast last week says drone strike set it off

Government findings rule out previous reports that the explosion at al-Sqar base may have been an accident; some speculation has focused on Israel

Illustrative photo of a US-made Reaper drone. (Dominique Faget/AFP)
Illustrative photo of a US-made Reaper drone. (Dominique Faget/AFP)

An Iraqi government fact-finding committee set up to investigate a massive munitions depot explosion near Baghdad earlier this month has concluded the blast was the result of a drone strike.

The report, outlining the findings of the committee, says the August 12 explosion at the al-Saqr military base, which killed one civilian and wounded 28, wasn’t caused by faulty storage or an electricity circuit as had been suggested.

The report instead blamed it on a drone strike that caused a huge fire. It didn’t say whom the drone belonged to. A copy of the report was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The blast shook the Iraqi capital and sent explosives and mortar shells shooting into the sky, damaging nearby homes and terrifying residents who ran into the streets with their cellphones. Black smoke billowed over the city for hours afterward.

Popular Mobilization Forces parade in Basra, Iraq, September 8, 2018. (Nabil al-Jurani/AP)

Following the incident, Baghdad banned unauthorized flights and ordered all military camps and munitions warehouses to be moved outside Iraqi cities.

Most recently, 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 Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The state-sanctioned PMF militias have fought alongside Iraq’s regular armed forces against the Islamic State group.

Speculation among media and officials has ranged among a number of possible perpetrators, including Israel, Islamic State militants or rival Iraqi factions.

Asked about Tuesday night’s blast at the pro-Iranian militia base, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli reporters, “Iran has no immunity, anywhere… We will act — and currently are acting — against them, wherever it is necessary.”

Last month, an unmanned drone bombed a base used by pro-Tehran paramilitary units in central Iraq, reportedly killing three people, two of whom were said to be Iranian.

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 in Iraq. However, neither the Iraqi government nor Israel have addressed the reports.

In this Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 photo, Talib, the son of Iraqi sniper Ali Jayad al-Salhi, 65, a volunteer with Popular Mobilization Forces killed fighting Islamic State militants, poses with a weapon next to his father’s poster in his home in Basra, Iraq. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

The London-based, Saudi-owned Arabic-language Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on Wednesday that Israel has conducted several strikes on Iranian-controlled bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks with permission from the United States and Russia.

Moscow and Washington agreed that the Jewish state could conduct these attacks on Iranian targets in order to “ensure Israel’s security,” according to what the paper described as a Western diplomatic source. As part of the reported agreement, Israel would not publicly acknowledge carrying out the strikes. However, this has not prevented Israeli officials from hinting at their involvement in these attacks.

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