US Military Denies Any Involvement in Air Strike That Hit Iran-Backed Forces in Iraq

Melanie Sun
By Melanie Sun
April 21, 2024US News
US Military Denies Any Involvement in Air Strike That Hit Iran-Backed Forces in Iraq
The Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on April 19, 2024, in Babil Province, Iraq, on April 20, 2024. (Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters)

The U.S. military has said that it has no reason to believe that U.S. forces were responsible for a huge blast reported at a military base in Iraq that killed a member of Iraq’s Iran-backed paramilitary forces on Friday.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in an X, formerly Twitter, post late on Friday, “We are aware of reports claiming that the United States conducted airstrikes in Iraq today. Those reports are not true. The United States has not conducted air strikes in Iraq today.”

Reuters cited two security sources who said that airstrikes had caused a blast early Saturday morning at 1 a.m. local time.

The blast was reportedly at Kalso military base, just 30 miles south of Baghdad in Iraq’s central Babil/Babylon province. The military base houses the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—an umbrella grouping of some 40 paramilitary forces mostly consisting of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias that nominally answer to the Iraqi military.

In addition to the death of one PMF member, eight more were reported wounded, according to Reuters.

A PMF force commander told Reuters the explosion was an attack. Meanwhile, the Iraqi military said it was investigating the cause of an explosion and fire at the cast. It said it was not aware of any drones or warplanes in the sky at the time.

“The air defence command report confirmed, through technical efforts and radar detection, that there was no drone or fighter jet in the air space of Babil before and during the explosion,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

Proxy Wars in Iraq

Tensions have simmered in Iraq between pro-U.S. and pro-Iran factions within the government, military, and the PMF for years.

The PMF militias hold a number of parliamentary seats in the Iraqi government, giving them significant influence. They have been leading a call on the Iraqi parliament to end an agreement that allows the U.S.-led International Coalition Forces to be present in the region.

In December 2023, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who rose to power in 2022 with the support of PMF militias who conducted attacks on U.S. bases, announced that his administration will work to end the presence of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, which “include security advisers who support the security forces in the areas of training, advice, and intelligence cooperation.”

Such promises reached another peak in January after a U.S. strike in Baghdad killed a commander of the PMF’s Iran-linked Kataib Hezbollah group over its ongoing attacks on U.S. forces in the region.

Iraqi voices are split, with some condemning attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and others condemning Washington’s military actions in the region that they say are in “violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

To date, the U.S.-led Coalition consists of 86 countries, along with the European Union, NATO, and Interpol. It continues to operate in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government to deter ISIS from regrouping. Its mandate also includes “training and assisting” local groups and militias allied with the United States.

Roughly 2,500 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Iraq.

The explosion comes just a day after Israel appeared to have hit the city of Isfahan in response to the regime’s direct attack on Israel on April 13. The city plays an important role in Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran said its attack was in retaliation for a deadly precision strike on two of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) military generals that it blamed on Israel. They were in a building adjacent to the Iranian and Canadian Embassies in Syria’s capital of Damascus. Five others, including a member of Hezbollah, were also killed in the attack.

One of the generals killed was Gen. Ali Reza Zahdi (also spelled Reza Zahedi), who the IRGC says led its elite Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016. He was honored on April 3 by the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces for his role in “planning and executing the Al-Aqsa Storm” Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Iranian dissident news organization Iran International reported.

Adam Morrow and Reuters contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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