Accessibility links

Breaking News

Drone Attack Suspected at Iraqi Shi'ite Ammunition Depot

FILE - An Iraqi army soldier stands guard near a U.S.-made Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighter jet at the Balad Air Base, Iraq, Feb. 13, 2018.

An ammunition dump belonging to Iraqi Shi'ite militia forces — known popularly as al Hushd al-Shaabi — exploded Tuesday evening, following Arab media reports of a drone strike on the area near Balad Air Base, 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Baghdad.

If confirmed, it would be the latest attack against a Shi'ite militia weapons depot in recent weeks. One attack took place Aug. 12, with another targeting a Shi'ite militia checkpoint near the Syrian-Iraqi border at Albukamel several days earlier.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the alleged drone attacks, but some analysts are pointing a finger at Israel.

Amateur video of the weapons depot explosion Tuesday evening showed a massive fireball erupting high into the sky, followed by heavy black smoke and a subsequent series of smaller blasts. Rockets and missiles reportedly continued to detonate long after the initial explosion.

FILE - Plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 12, 2019.
FILE - Plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 12, 2019.

Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari told journalists after visiting the site of the blast that there were no civilian casualties.

Shammari also said all of the fires from the explosions have been extinguished by Iraqi civil defense forces, in coordination with the national police and Hushd militia forces. The area around the base is now on high alert.

Israel suspected

Pro-Iranian al Mayadeen TV quoted Iraqi member of parliament Karim al Alewi, who belongs to the parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, as saying that Israeli planes were "responsible for two previous ammunition dump explosions at Amerli and Saqf" during the past month.

Alewi also alleged that "the U.S. controls Iraqi air space" and that "no planes, including Iraqi jets or helicopters, can overfly the area without U.S. knowledge or permission."

A number of Arab news channels also reported that Israel was behind Tuesday's explosion near Balad Air Base, amid allegations that Iranian Fateh short-range missiles had been smuggled into Iraq.

Israel did not comment on the allegations, although Israel's Channel 13 television outlet reportedly quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that "Iran will not be immune from attack, anywhere in the region."

An article in the U.S. magazine Salon said the White House is allowing Israel to take out Iranian missiles and other weapons that the Revolutionary Guard forces (IRGC) have brought into both Iraq and Syria. Israel's Y-net news website reported that "50 missiles exploded in the bombed storage facility" on Tuesday.

'Targeted destruction'

Gulf and Middle East analyst Theodore Karasik told VOA that "attacks by Israel are highly significant because of the necessity to destroy equipment being shipped into the Levant from the Islamic Republic." Levant refers to the area between the Mediterranean and Iran.

Karasik notes that some reports suggest the attacks were carried out by drone strikes, "which allow for high levels of targeted destruction."

"Key state actors," he said, "are relying on airstrikes and drone attacks in an increasingly important way that changes the scope of the fight."

Yemen's pro-Iranian Houthi militia claimed to have struck Saudi natural gas facilities in the east of the country using drones last week. However, several U.S. sources maintained the attacks may have been carried out by drones based in Iraq, not Yemen.

Riyadh reported there was only minor damage from the attacks.

Another alleged Houthi drone strike on the Saudi Yanbu oil pipeline took place in May.