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Another Mysterious Airstrike Hits Iran-Backed Militia In Iraq


Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (R) uses a walkie-talkie at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province, March 8, 2015. File photo

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted Israel might be behind airstrikes on Iran-allied militias in Iraq, another mysterious attack hit a weapons depot north of Baghdad.

Several blasts hit a position held by Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitaries next to Balad air base on Tuesday, an Iraqi military official and a source in a paramilitary group said.

In recent weeks attacks have hit weapons depots, bases or positions belonging to factions within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Iraq's umbrella of mostly Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups supported and supplied by Iran.

The military official said the intended target of the blasts was the group's position near the base. The paramilitary source said his group's weapons depot was specifically targeted by an aerial bombardment.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Witnesses said the explosions caused stored rockets to fly into nearby orchards and into Balad base itself.

Last week, a blast at a weapons depot run by a PMF group sent rockets careening across southern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding 29 others. Police at the time attributed the explosion to poor storage and high temperatures, but a government investigation is underway.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi last week ordered all ammunition dumps belonging to the armed forces or paramilitary groups to be moved outside of cities.

He also cancelled all special flight permissions for Iraqi and foreign aircraft, meaning sorties including by the U.S.-led coalition operating against Islamic State militants must be cleared in advance by the prime minister.

Some analysts have suggested the strikes might have been carried out by Israel, which last year signaled that it could attack suspected Iranian military assets in Iraq, as it has done with scores of air strikes in Syria.

"Iraq's air defenses have very high capability, but one thing they couldn't detect is an advanced Israeli air attack," said Baghdad-based security analyst Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises the government.

The U.S. coalition has denied any involvement in the recent explosions.

Reporting by Reuters

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