A former Iraqi deputy prime minister on Wednesday indicated Israel was responsible for a massive explosion earlier this week in a weapons depot controlled by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Baghdad.
“We believe they are weapons we were holding onto for a neighboring state and they were targeted by an oppressive colonial state on the basis of a treasonous Iraqi act,” former deputy prime minister Baha al-Araji wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
An unnamed security source on Wednesday also told the Asharq al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London, that Israel was behind the strike.
“All indications point to Israel, perhaps with the support of the United States, completing what it started in Syria in terms of targeting sites with Iranian forces,” the source said.
The Israel Defense Forces has not commented on the reports.
According to foreign reports, Israel has been increasingly active in carrying out airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq, shifting its focus after years of reported raids aimed at keeping Tehran from gaining a foothold in Syria.
Israeli officials have identified Iraq as a likely growing base of operations for Iran-backed efforts against the Jewish state.
“It is clear that we are in the midst of a real battle between Israel and the United States against Iran and its allies in Iraq. It is clear that the two sides chose Iraq to be the place for their unannounced battle,” the unnamed security source told the Saudi-owned newspaper.
The blast occurred Monday in the Saqr military base in the southern section of the Iraqi capital, which is ordinarily used by the country’s Federal Police and the Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sponsored umbrella group of militias, some of which are supported by Iran, according to Iraq’s Interior Minister Saad Maan.
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Local media reported that the weapons storehouse was controlled by the Sayyid of Martyrs Battalions, an Iraqi Shiite militia supported by Iran.
In contrast to the opinion of the unnamed defense source, Adel al-Karawi, spokesman for the Ansar Allah al-Awfiya in the PMF, said that “the data regarding a fire breaking out at the Saqr base, near the al-Dura area south of Baghdad, indicates the base was subject to a bombardment by an American [drone] carrying missiles.”
The explosion set off some of the munitions stored on the base, sending projectiles into surrounding neighborhoods.
According to Maan, 13 people were injured in the blast, including two federal policemen and four PMF members. It was not immediately clear if the injuries were caused by the initial blast or the projectiles that were launched following the blast.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said one person was killed in the Monday incident and that civilians were also wounded. Mahdi ordered an investigation into the blast along with “integrated safety measures at all military bases and armed forces’ storage facilities to prevent it from occurring again,” he wrote on Twitter.
But the unnamed security official said the results of the investigation — as well as investigations into previous cases of bombings at pro-Iranian militia bases — would likely never be publicized as doing so “will bother the Iranians.”
“[Tehran has] adopted a strategy to not announce Israeli and American targeting of their sites in Syria and later in Iraq,” the source added.
According to al-Araji, “it has emerged that the type of weapons that were burned were not ordinary. They were not used by the Iraqi forces or even the Popular Mobilization Forces.”
Last month, Asharq Al-Awsat cited Western diplomatic sources as saying an Israeli F-35 plane was behind a July 19 strike on a rocket depot in a Shiite militia base north of Baghdad. The Saudi-based al-Arabiya network reported at the time that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah had been killed in the strike. It said the base had shortly before the strike received Iranian ballistic missiles, which were hidden inside trucks.
Iraq’s military said at the time that the strike was carried out by an unmanned drone. The United States denied involvement.
That was the second reported strike in July. Asharq Al-Awsat also said that Israel was behind another strike in Iraq carried out last month at Camp Ashraf, the former headquarters of the exiled People’s Mujahedin of Iran, located 40 kilometers northeast of Baghdad and 80 kilometers from the Iranian border. That strike targeted Iranian advisers and a ballistic missile shipment, the newspaper cited sources as saying.
Israel does not usually comment on specific reports of strikes, but does insist it has the right to defend itself by targeting positions held by Iran and Hezbollah.
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi boasted last month that Israel is the only country in the world that has been “killing Iranians.”
In a speech to the UN General Assembly last September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel was prepared to act against Iran in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and “wherever we must act to defend our state and defend our people.”
An excerpt from the speech in which Netanyahu only mentions Iraq was utilized in a recent Likud election campaign clip.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.