Satellite firm says images of bombed Iraqi site indicate it was hit in airstrike

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Israel’s ImageSat International releases pictures of weapons depot in southern Baghdad controlled by a pro-Iranian militia; attack has been blamed on Israel

By Judah Ari Gross and Adam Rasgon 14 August 2019, 8:01 pm 2

An Israeli satellite imaging firm on Wednesday released photos of a weapons depot in southern Baghdad controlled by a pro-Iranian militia that was hit in an alleged Israeli airstrike earlier this week.

ImageSat International said that damage characteristics identified from the photos show “it is probable that the blast was caused by an airstrike, followed by secondary explosions of the explosives stored in the depot.”

On Tuesday, a former Iraqi deputy prime minister appeared to blame Israel for the massive explosion on Monday.

 “We believe they are weapons we were holding onto for a neighboring state and they were targeted by an oppressive colonial state on the basis of a treasonous Iraqi act,” former deputy prime minister Baha al-Araji wrote on Twitter.

Satellite photo of a weapons depot in southern Baghdad controlled by a pro-Iranian militia that was hit in an alleged Israeli operation on August 12, 2019. (ImageSat International)

An unnamed security source on Wednesday told Asharq al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London, that Israel was behind the strike.

“All indications point to Israel, perhaps with the support of the United States, completing what it started in Syria in terms of targeting sites with Iranian forces,” the source said.

The Israel Defense Forces has not commented on the reports.

According to foreign reports, Israel has been increasingly active in carrying out airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq, shifting its focus after years of reported raids aimed at keeping Tehran from gaining a foothold in Syria.

Israeli officials have identified Iraq as a likely growing base of operations for Iran-backed efforts against the Jewish state.

“It is clear that we are in the midst of a real battle between Israel and the United States against Iran and its allies in Iraq. It is clear that the two sides chose Iraq to be the place for their unannounced battle,” the unnamed security source told the Saudi-owned newspaper.

The blast occurred Monday in the Saqr military base in the southern section of the Iraqi capital, which is ordinarily used by the country’s Federal Police and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored umbrella group of militias, some of which are supported by Iran, according to Iraq’s Interior Minister Saad Maan.

Local media reported that the weapons storehouse was controlled by the Sayyid of Martyrs Battalions, an Iraqi Shiite militia supported by Iran.

In contrast to the opinion of the unnamed defense source, Adel al-Karawi, spokesman for the Ansar Allah al-Awfiya in the PMF, said that “the data regarding a fire breaking out at the Saqr base, near the al-Dura area south of Baghdad, indicates the base was subject to a bombardment by an American [drone] carrying missiles.”

The explosion set off some of the munitions stored on the base, sending projectiles into surrounding neighborhoods.

According to Maan, 13 people were injured in the blast, including two federal policemen and four PMF members. It was not immediately clear if the injuries were caused by the initial blast or the projectiles that were launched following the blast.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said one person was killed in the Monday incident and that civilians were also wounded. Mahdi ordered an investigation into the blast along with “integrated safety measures at all military bases and armed forces’ storage facilities to prevent it from occurring again,” he wrote on Twitter.

But the unnamed security official said the results of the investigation — as well as investigations into previous cases of bombings at pro-Iranian militia bases — would likely never be publicized as doing so “will bother the Iranians.”

“[Tehran has] adopted a strategy to not announce Israeli and American targeting of their sites in Syria and later in Iraq,” the source added.

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