ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A series of blasts hit a weapons depot belonging to a Hashd al-Shaabi militia group on Tuesday, local media reported. The incident occurred close to the Balad airbase, which houses American and coalition trainers.
Videos posted on social media showed a large cloud of smoke forming from the site of the incident as a fire continued to rage at the base, fueled further by successive blasts. Witnesses also reported rockets flying off in other direction with some landing at Balad airbase.
The compounds are located in Salahuddin province close to 70 kilometers north of Baghdad’s center. The Shia militia group Kata’ib Imam Ali runs the arms warehouse that blew up, the cause of which was not immediately clear.
Kata’ib Imam Ali is part of the umbrella Hashd al-Shaabi organization, which is mainly composed of Shia entities backed by Iran. It was not immediately clear what type of weapons, rockets, and missiles, if any, were stored at the facility or whether said equipment belonged to any other militia group.
The Iraqi army operates another arms storage unit nearby. This incident reportedly marks a fourth of the sort, with repeated claims that Israeli planes had been behind the first two.
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The spokesperson of Iraq’s defense ministry, Tahsin Khafaji, told Kurdistan 24 that “the source of the attack” is unknown at the time. He affirmed that the military was forming an investigation committee to look into it.
“The Iraqi army’s base and weapons and ammunition depot are safe and were not damaged,” he added.
According to Reuters, citing a militia source, the explosion was due to an “aerial bombardment.” However, no entity has officially claimed responsibility for the latest blast and previous ones of a similar nature. Observers have also noted that they could be due to improper storage of ordnances at such facilities.
Last week, another arms depot belonging to another Hashd al-Shaabi group inside the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, blew up. At least one person was killed, and about 30 others were injured then.
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Many civilians living in surrounding areas began to flee in their cars as Katyusha rockets continued to land nearby. A health official said that many people, including children, had been injured.
Following this, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi issued a set of decisions, including the transfer of all armament storage facilities out of cities and tightening security measures in the country’s airspace.
The orders came after rumors spread on Iraqi social media networks with some activists claiming the explosion in the militia’s munitions warehouse was a result of an air attack by an Israeli fighter jet or drone. Multiple Iraqi officials made the same claim.
Fueling the speculation further, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday hinted his country was behind the incidents. “Iran has no immunity, anywhere,” Netanyahu told reporters at his hotel while on a visit in Ukraine, according to The Times of Israel.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany