ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – After a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi issued a decree calling for an intensified investigation into an explosion at a weapons depot run by a militia in Baghdad, two days earlier.
He also ordered that all armament storage facilities be moved outside cities and, amid speculation that the explosion was caused by Israeli jets, also ordered that all military aircraft without his specific approval would be restricted from flying over Iraq airspace.
The explosion, at the Saqr military base in Central Baghdad's southern Doura neighborhood, killed one person and wounded 37 others, according to media reports.
In an order released by Iraq's Joint Operations Command, Abdul Mahdi stated that "an investigation will be launched regarding the incident with the officials of the weapons depot," to ascertain its exact cause.
He announced "plans to transport all weapons warehouses and storage facilities belonging to the Iraqi army and any other forces outside of the city borders."
In addition, he stated that he was "revoking all flight approvals from Iraqi airspace (reconnaissance, armed reconnaissance, fighter aircraft, helicopters, drones of all kinds) to all [military flights], both Iraqi and non-Iraqi. The approvals shall be limited to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces exclusively," it read, using one of the titles of the prime minister.
The decree continued, "All parties shall abide strictly by this directive and any other traffic that is considered hostile will be handled by our air defenses immediately."
Many social media users who circulated videos of the explosion wrote that they believed the attack came from an Israeli fighter-jet that specifically targeted the arms depot belonging to Hash al-Shaabi militias, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Multiple Iraqi officials have made the same claim.
The warehouse stored short-range and Katyusha missiles, a security source told Reuters.
According to the local health directorate, as the post-explosion fire intensified, rockets ignited and launched into surrounding streets, striking several neighborhoods and wounding mostly children.
Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi, like his predecessor, has attempted to limit the strength of PMF militias, which often operate outside of the government military chain of command. Neither leader has been able to effectively do so.
Also this week, a PMF leader criticized the Iraqi army’s capabilities and called for its replacement by Shia militia groups, drawing ire from the Defense Ministry and the Iraqi Parliament.
Yusuf al-Nasseri, deputy leader of the pro-Iran Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia, said in an interview, "I call for the rebuilding of the security services again, and I call for the dissolution of the Iraqi army and for the [PMF] to be considered the primary army."
"We do not need an army to recruit a soldier, with a $1,000 in salaries, so that when an attack takes place, they toss their uniforms and weapons before running away, "the militia leader argued, referring to the fall of Mosul at the hands of the Islamic State in 2014, when the Iraqi army fled from advancing Islamic State fighters and abandoned the city.
The militia leader went on to describe Iraq’s military as "a mercenary army," claiming, "This is an army that is not genuine."
Editing by John J. Catherine