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

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.