Another Shiite militia base near Baghdad has been attacked by airstrikes from an unknown source on Tuesday, one week after a huge blast ripped through a separate pro-Iran militia weapons storehouse near the Iraqi capital’s ‘Green Zone’.
Arabic media published images of a massive cloud of smoke coming from the Balad Air Base (also known as al-Bakr base) north of Baghdad, with Iraqi officials confirming the airstrikes. The attack is already being blamed on Israel, and comes following Iraq late last week shutting down its airspace to all ‘unauthorized’ flights not specifically approved at the top levels of the Iraqi government and military.
Military Times reported of Iraq’s closure of its airspace last Thursday: “U.S. military officials in Iraq will now seek out Iraqi approval before launching any air operations, a move made a day after that nation’s prime minister announced a ban of unauthorized flights, including those involving coalition forces fighting ISIS.”
Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi had called for an end to all “unauthorized flights” including US drones, spy planes, jets, or helicopters. The directive demanded that all aerial vehicles comply with Iraqi law and operations must be under Iraqi government authorization.
Crucially, Balad base – the location of the alleged new airstrikes – hosts US forces and contractors, according to Reuters. There are reports of an unknown number of fatalities at the installation which also hosts US-supplied Iraqi F-16 fighter jets.
— العين الإخبارية (@alain_4u) August 20, 2019
Reuters describes the vicinity of the explosions as follows:
Several blasts hit a position held by Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitaries next to Balad air base north of Baghdad on Tuesday, an Iraqi military official and a source in a paramilitary group said.
Balad base hosts U.S. forces and contractors and is located about 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad. An Iraqi Shi’ite militia group, which is backed by Iran, is stationed nearby.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied having any role in either attacks. The Associated Press is describing the explosion as “the latest in a series of mysterious blasts that have rocked military bases and weapons depots around the country recently.”
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday actually hinted that the Israeli Air Force was behind the recent spate of mystery attacks on pro-Iran militia bases in Iraq, saying that Israel will “continue to act militarily” to curtail Iranian expansion in the region, according to The Times of Israel.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) August 20, 2019
“Iran has no immunity, anywhere,” he told reporters while on a state visit to Kiev. He was responding to a specific question about the mystery attacks on Iraq. “We will act — and currently are acting — against them, wherever it is necessary,” he declared.
Both Israeli and Arabic media took it as a tacit admission that Israel is now conducing air raids over Iraqi soil — which if confirmed would mark a huge escalation following repeat airstrikes on Syria of the past couple years.
Footage showing the August 12th arms depot blast, also widely blamed on Israel:
— Steven nabil (@thestevennabil) August 12, 2019
It also puts the United States in a deeply awkward position, given the US “anti-ISIL” coalition partners with Iraq’s military.