Head of Iran-backed Militia in Iraq Walks Back Accusation Against U.S. in Drone Strikes

Head of Popular Mobilization Forces says his deputy's statements - blaming the United States and Israel for a series of attacks on their bases - does not represent stance of the organization or Iraqi government

A members of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) walks past a poster of PMF members at Popular Mobilization Forces Media Center in Baghdad, Iraq, July 2, 2019
A members of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) walks past a poster of PMF members at Popular Mobilization Forces Media Center in Baghdad, Iraq, July 2, 2019Credit: \ KHALID AL-MOUSILY/ REUTERS

The head of Iraq's paramilitary Shi'ite forces, supported by Iran, appears to be walking back a statement made by his deputy who blamed Israeli drones and said the U.S. was responsible for a series of attacks on bases run by the militia.

Faleh al-Fayyadh said on Thursday that the statement by his deputy, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, didn't represent the view of the mainly Shi'ite paramilitary group known as Popular Mobilization Forces — or that of the Iraqi government.

Al-Fayyadh's statement alleges the attacks on the bases over the past weeks "were the result of an act organized by a foreign side," without naming that side.

>> Read more: Secret partner? Behind Iraq's silence on alleged Israeli strikes on Iranian targets | Analysis

The statement highlights divisions within the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is mostly run by the deputy, al-Muhandis, a military commander known for his anti-American sentiments.

An Iraqi government report obtained by The Associated Press Wednesday said a massive explosion at a munitions depot run by an Iranian-backed militia near Baghdad was caused by a drone strike.

The report, outlining the findings of the committee, says the August 12 explosion at the al-Saqr military base, which killed one civilian and wounded 28, was not caused by faulty storage or an electricity circuit as had been suggested.

The report instead blamed it on a drone strike that caused a huge fire. It did not say who the drone belonged to. A copy of the report was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The blast was the latest in a series to hit bases for Iran-backed militia groups operating in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi ordered an urgent investigation.

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