MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : How will Iraq interpret third explosion at base of Iran-backed militias?

The explosions, if seen as merely a public safety issue, can encourage the government to secure the bases and munitions used by the PMF. – By Seth J. Frantzman August 15, 2019 09:16 JERUSALEM POST –

An explosion at a warehouse in Baghdad this week led to rumors and questions. Could it be the heat of summer, or was it a mysterious drone some said they have footage of? Or was it an air strike, as recent satellite imagery might show?

Like many things in the heat of the summer in Baghdad, there may never be a clear answer – and the answer that may be accurate may not be the one that the authorities and others necessarily want to hear.

An explosion rocked an area south of Baghdad on August 12, destroying a warehouse at a military base used by the Popular Mobilization Forces or Hashd al-Sha’abi. One person was killed and dozens injured. Reports indicated that various members of the PMF use the area, including some closely linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Initial reports said that the area had been bombed. A “warplane” or “drone” was rumored to have been seen.

But authorities quickly said that the explosion at the camp known as Saqr or Falcon was due to heat and badly-stored munitions. This has happened in the past in Iraq, especially in 2017 and 2018. Some who looked at the history of Camp Falcon and Rasheed Airbase recall that in 2006, the area was struck by a mortar, and a huge explosion resulted. Some accounts in Iraq said that the explosion on August 12 was caused by “foreign powers.” But members of Parliament in Baghdad chimed in on August 13, asserting that weapons should not be stored in such quantities near civilian areas. The prime minister said the necessary steps would be taken to stop more explosions.

However, the ImageSat International images released on August 14 allege that it is probable the “blast was caused by an air strike.” This complicates an already complex picture. In recent weeks, other explosions have rocked areas used by the PMF. A July 19 explosion at Shohada camp in the Salahuddin province also harmed an area used by the PMF.  There was a Turkmen unit present. A mysterious drone was seen, according to local station Kurdistan24. The US-led coalition even tweeted that “Coalition Forces were not involved.” Other reports claimed members of Hezbollah and the Iran-based IRGC were casualties in the attack.

A July 28 explosion at Camp Ashraf northeast of Baghdad also destroyed a warehouse. A Twitter account named @AuroraIntel even posted satellite images of the Camp Ashraf and a second site at Amerli north of Baghdad closer to Kirkuk, which show damage from explosions. TRT in Turkey alleges that Israel has “opened a new front against Iran,” and links this to the mysterious explosions.

The explosions, if seen as merely a public safety issue, can encourage the government to secure the bases and munitions used by the PMF, as part of a way of bringing the forces under federal control. The Hashd al-Shaabi were supposed to be fully incorporated into the security forces, but the presence of so many munitions warehouses, with rockets and other munitions, can pose a danger to locals.