Iraq‘s paramilitary groups backed by Iran have blamed a series of recent blasts at their weapons depots and bases on the United States and Israel, vowing to defend themselves against any future attack.
The statement on Wednesday came from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), or Hashd al-Shaabi, the umbrella grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shia militias.
It said the US 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 the PMF’s deputy head, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, also known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes.
The US-led coalition, in Iraq to fight remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) group, 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, using an alternative name for ISIL.
“We operate in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq and comply with their laws and direction.”
The statements came a day after several blasts hit a position held by a PMF group next to Balad airbase, about 80km north of the capital, Baghdad.
Another blast last week at a weapons depot run by one group sent rockets careening across southern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding 29 others.
A government investigation found that an explosion last week near Baghdad was caused by a drone attack, according to The Associated Press news agency.
Amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran, Iraq finds itself caught between neighbouring Iran, whose regional influence has grown in recent years, and the US.
Asked about the mounting speculation that Israel was hitting targets in Iraq, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday struck his country’s traditional stance of neither denying nor confirming such operations.
“Iran has no immunity, anywhere … We will act – and currently are acting – against them, wherever it is necessary,” he said during a visit to Ukraine, quoted in the Times of Israel newspaper.
If Israel did carry out the bombings, it would be an expansion of its campaign against Iran’s spreading influence in the region.
Israel is known to have struck Iran-related targets in Syria on numerous occasions – as well as in Lebanon and Sudan in the past.
But the last time Israel was known to have struck inside Iraq was in 1981, when Israeli fighter jets bombed an under-construction Iraqi nuclear reactor south of Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, following last week’s blast, 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 US-led coalition operating against ISIL fighters must be cleared in advance by the prime minister.
Iraq declared victory over ISIL in 2017, but there are still operations near-weekly against the group.