An airstrike was likely behind the explosions in a weapons depot belonging to an Iranian-backed Shiite militia south of Baghdad on Monday, an assessment by ImageSat International (ISI) found on Wednesday.
According to ISI, the warehouse which measured 140x180m belonged to the Hashd al-Shabi (Popular Mobilization) militia and was located within the Iraqi Al-Saqr military base.
“The main building is destroyed with significant collateral damage signs,” ISI said, adding that “based on the observed damage characteristics in this image, it is probable that the blast was caused by an airstrike followed by secondary explosions of the explosives stored in the place.”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi visited a weapons depot belonging to an Iranian-backed Shiite militia south of Baghdad where an explosion and fire occurred on Monday as conflicting reports emerged about the cause of the incident, according to the international Arabic London-based newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat.
One person was killed and 29 others were injured in the explosion, according to Sky News Arabia.
Shortly afterward, shells fell in the Green Zone of Baghdad where the American Embassy in Iraq is located.
Earlier on Monday, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said 13 people were injured in the explosion, according to the Iranian IRNA news agency.
Sources in Iraq issued conflicting statements as to the cause of the attack. Some claimed that it was an accident caused by improper storage, while others claimed that Israel and the US attacked the depot.
Reuters reported that the explosions were caused by a large fire at the weapons depot, which injured 14 people when rockets stored there went off and hit neighborhoods in the area.
A police source said the fire was probably caused by negligence leading to poor storage conditions and high temperatures, according to Reuters.
On Tuesday, the Iraqi prime minister examined the site of the explosion and ordered an investigation into the causes of the incident. He also issued orders for the development of shared safety procedures for all armed forces to prevent such incidents.
The incident sparked widespread criticism as the weapons depot was located near a residential area, putting civilians in danger. 15 explosions have occurred since 2016 at sites belonging to the PMF located in or near residential areas.
انفجار هائل بمستودع أسلحة جنوب #بغداد.. وتقارير عراقية تؤكد تبعيته للحشد الشعبي وفرار سكان المنازل القريبة بعد أن طالتهم الشظايا #إرم_نيوز #العراق #Iraq pic.twitter.com/HmKezFQtzY— إرم نيوز (@EremNews) August 12, 2019
The head of the Iraqi parliament's security and defense commission, Mohammad Reza Al Haidar, called on the head of the Iraqi armed forces to order that all weapons be handed over to the government and that all barracks and unofficial caches of ammunition be removed from cities, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency. The recent explosions raised "serious concerns," according to Al Haidar.
"The military battle is over and there is no justification for storing weapons near residential areas," said Al Haidar.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Saad Maan said that the depot held equipment belonging to the Iraqi Federal Police Forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces and that the attack injured 13 people including two Federal Police officers and four members of the PMF.
An Iraqi military source told Al Ain that unidentified aircraft targeted warehouses of equipment and missiles belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces militia at the Al-Saqr military base south of Baghdad. The shelling completely destroyed the stores. Dozens of injuries were reported from the Quds Force and members of the Hezbollah militia at the base.
תיעוד הנזק במחסן הנשק של המיליציות השיעיות המזוהות עם איראן, שהתפוצץ באופן מסתורי לפני יומיים בדרום בגדד@kaisos1987 pic.twitter.com/i3FPGclcyb— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 14, 2019
Deputy Prime Minister and former leader of the Sadrist movement Baha Araji claimed that the weapons couldn't have belonged to Iraqi forces or even the PMF due to the nature of the fire and blast. A-Sharq Al-Awsat called this a "clear indication" that the equipment was owned by Iran.
"We can conclude that the weapons were being stored for safekeeping by a neighboring country and were targeted by an unjust colonial state based on a treasonous Iraq tip off," tweeted Araji.
A security source told the London-based daily that Israel and the US are using Iraq as a battleground for attacks against Iran.
“It is obvious that we are confronted with a real bone-grinding battle between the United States and Israel on the one hand, and Iran and its allies in Iraq on the other," said the anonymous source. "It is also obvious that both sides have chosen Iraq as the ground for their undeclared battle."
The source added that Israel seems to be "completing what it began in Syria" with attacks on Iranian multinational forces. He speculated that Iraq won't release the results of the investigation into the blast on Monday in order to avoid "bothering the Iranians," as Iran generally does not announce when their positions in Syria and Iraq are attacked. Iraq also did not release the results of investigation into an attack on a base in Amerli, according to the source.
In remarks on television, a PMF member said he believed that a US drone was behind the incident on Monday, and warned that more attacks would occur "if we do not seize control of Iraqi airspace, especially after Israeli jets have also flown over Iraqi territory."
Two attacks have hit bases held by Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq since the beginning of July.
The first attack happened on July 19 at a base in Amerli in the Saladin province north of Baghdad. Iraqi and Iranian sources blamed Israel at the time, and A-sharq Al-Awsat reported that “diplomatic sources” confirmed the attack, specifying that it was carried out by an Israeli F-35.
Al Arabiya television news reported that Iranian-made ballistic missiles were transported to the base shortly before the attack via trucks used to transport refrigerated food. The identity of the aircraft which conducted the attack was unspecified at the time, and the US denied any involvement. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah members were killed in the air strike, according to Al Arabiya. However, the Iranian-backed al-Hashd ash-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Forces) denied that any Iranians were killed, according to Fars News Agency.
A source from the IRGC told the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper that preliminary investigations indicate that Israel was behind the attack. An Israeli drone launched from a US base in Syria attacked the base, which stored short- and medium-range missiles.
The IRGC reached this conclusion because the type of missile that hit the camp is the same used by the IAF in attacks on Syria.
A-sharq Al-Awsat also reported that a second attack by Israel on Sunday on a base in Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, had targeted Iranian advisers who were present at the base and a shipment of ballistic missiles that had just arrived from Iran.
Iran has begun moving its assets from areas repeatedly struck by Israel to locations closer to the border with Iraq, specifically the T4 Airbase located between Homs and Palmyra.
In September, Reuters reported that Iran had transferred ballistic missiles to Shi’ite proxies in Iraq over the course of several months and that it is developing the capacity to build more there. The missiles that were said to have been transferred include the Fateh-110, Zolfaqar and Zelzal types, which have ranges of 200-700 km., allowing them to be able to threaten both Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Israel has not commented on the recent strikes.