Iraq paramilitary force says US ‘responsible’ for base attacks

A fact-finding committee appointed by the Iraqi government to investigate a massive munitions depot explosion near the capital Baghdad has concluded that the blast was the result of a drone strike. (File/AP)
Updated 21 August 2019

Iraq paramilitary force says US ‘responsible’ for base attacks

  • A government investigation concluded a drone had set off the blast
  • The finding deepens the question of who is behind a string of at least 3 mysterious explosions that hit militia bases in Iraq in the past month

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s paramilitary groups on Wednesday blamed a series of recent blasts at their weapons depots and bases on the United States and Israel.
The statement from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the umbrella grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shiite Muslim paramilitary groups, many of which are backed by Iran, said the United States had allowed four Israeli drones to enter the region accompanying US forces and carry out missions on Iraqi territory.
“We announce that the first and last entity responsible for what happened are the American forces, and we will hold them responsible for whatever happens from today onwards,” said the statement, signed by deputy head of the PMF, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandes.
The PMF statement came a day after several blasts hit a position held by a PMF group next to Balad air base about 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad.
As tensions between Washington and Tehran increase, Iraq finds itself caught between neighboring Iran, whose regional influence has grown in recent years, and the United States.
The US-led coalition, in Iraq to fight remnants of Daesh, dismissed the statement.
“The mission of CJTF-OIR in Iraq is solely to enable our Iraqi Security Force partners in the mission of an enduring defeat of Daesh,” it said. “We operate in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq and comply with their laws and direction.”
In Washington, the Pentagon denied involvement.
“The US is not involved in the recent warehouse explosions,” Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
“The US presence in Iraq supports Iraq’s efforts against Daesh; we support Iraq’s sovereignty and we are complying with Iraqi government directives about the use of their airspace,” Robertson added, using a western acronym for Daesh.
Iraq declared victory over Daesh in 2017, but there are still near-weekly operations against the group.
A blast last week at a weapons depot run by one 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 under way.
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 canceled all special flight permissions for Iraqi and foreign aircraft, meaning that sorties, including by the US-led coalition operating against Daesh militants, must be cleared in advance by the prime minister.
Some analysts have suggested the strikes might have been carried out by Israel, which signaled last year it could attack suspected Iranian military assets in Iraq, as it has done with scores of air strikes in Syria.
Israeli officials suggested recently they viewed Iraq, whose main ally is Israel’s regional foe Iran, as more of a threat than in recent years, but have not directly commented on the recent blasts at PMF sites in Iraq

Fallen Tunisian autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali dies

Updated 12 min 18 sec ago

Fallen Tunisian autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali dies

TUNIS: Tunisia's ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali died on Thursday, days after a free presidential election in his homeland, his family lawyer said.

“Ben Ali just died,” the lawyer, Mounir Ben Salha, told Reuters by phone.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia in January 2011 as his compatriots rose up against his oppressive rule in a revolution that inspired other Arab Spring uprisings abroad and led to a democratic transition at home.

On Sunday, Tunisians voted in an election that featured candidates from across the political spectrum, sending two political outsiders through to a second round vote unthinkable during Ben Ali's own era of power.

However, while they have enjoyed a much smoother march to democracy than citizens of the other Arab states that also rose up in 2011, many of them are economically worse off than they were under Ben Ali.

While almost all the candidates in Sunday's election were vocal champions of the revolution, one of them, Abir Moussi, campaigned as a supporter of Ben Ali's ousted government, receiving 4 percent of the votes.