Sun | Sep 15, 2019

New explosion rocks arms depot north of Iraqi capital

Published:Wednesday | August 21, 2019 | 12:25 AM

BAGHDAD (AP):

A large explosion hit an arms depot belonging to an Iranian-backed militia faction north of Baghdad yesterday, 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 militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces. The state-sanctioned PMF militias have fought alongside Iraq’s regular armed forces against the Islamic State group.

Last week, a massive explosion at a munitions depot southwest of Baghdad killed one civilian and wounded 13 others. The exact cause for the blast, which terrified residents and damaged nearby homes, is still unknown although some officials blamed it on faulty storage.

Last month, an explosion took place at a base in Amirli, in Iraq’s northern Salaheddin province, killing two Iranians and causing a huge fire. That attack was blamed on an unmanned drone that dropped explosives, with some Shiite militias blaming it on the Islamic State group.

In response to the explosions, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi last week banned unauthorised flights throughout the country and ordered all military camps and munitions warehouses to be moved outside Iraqi cities. He ordered an urgent investigation into the explosions, whose results he said should be concluded within a week.

No one has claimed responsibility for those explosions or Tuesday’s blast near the Balad air base in Salaheddin province, which sent smoke billowing from the area.

The officials who confirmed the explosion spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

They said the blast occurred in a depot belonging to the PMF and that an investigation was under way.

The Iraqi Civil Defense said in a statement that the blast occurred near Balad airbase, one of the country’s largest, which is home to US trainers and is about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Baghdad. It said its members were trying to control a fire caused by the blast.

A Shiite militia group is stationed nearby.