A week after similar reports, suspected attack against Shi’ite group Popular Mobilization Forces hits airbase north of Baghdad
By Reuters and Jack Khoury
Several blasts hit a position held by Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitaries next to Balad air base north of Baghdad on Tuesday, Iraqi military officials and a source in a paramilitary group said.
Balad base hosts U.S. forces and contractors and is located about 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad. An Iraqi Shi’ite militia group known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is backed by Iran, is stationed nearby.
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Site of explosion
The military official said the intended target of the blasts was the militia’s position near the base. The paramilitary source said his group’s weapons depot was specifically targeted by an aerial bombardment.
The U.S.-led coalition could not immediately be reached for comment.
Iraqi media reported several casualties, but there was no immediate confirmation.
Witnesses said the explosions caused stored rockets to fly into nearby orchards and into Balad base itself.
Last week, Iraq’s interior ministry said a large explosion at an ammunition depot southwest of the capital has injured 13 people, most lightly.
Reports on Iraqi media have not named any state or organization behind the possible attack.
The base houses a weapons depot for the Iraqi federal police and the PMF. The state-sanctioned PMF militias, which also receive backing from Iran, have fought alongside Iraq’s regular armed forces against the Islamic State group.
Last month, London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported Israel has expanded the scope of its anti-Iranian attacks and struck targets in Iraq.
The base was formerly used by the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, a militia that fought against the Iranian regime.
Over the past year, an number of strikes targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah in Syria were attributed to Israel.
Following last month’s report, Israeli defense officials said Iran’s military entrenchment in Iraq poses a threat to Israel, adding that Tehran has shifted the bulk of its deployment of missile systems from Syria to Iraq, which is harder for Israel to attack than Syria was.
According to Israeli intelligence, Iran is currently providing Iraqi militias with missiles that have ranges of 200 to 700 kilometers and are capable of hitting anywhere in Israel. These missiles are more accurate than the ones in Hezbollah’s arsenal, and Iran may use them either to hit Israel directly from northern Iraq or to transfer them as needed to Syria and Lebanon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.