Local sources published conflicting reports about a major explosion at what appears to have been a weapons depot at Al Saqar Camp, in Baghdad on the evening of August 12th, 2019. One civilian was reportedly killed, while up to 30 others were reported injured.
While no belligerent claimed responsibility, Israel was blamed by some as the possible culprit. Israel, in turn, claimed that Iran has begun to reinforce armed militias in Iraq as a result of increased attacks against its targets in Syria. One source blamed US aircraft for the strikes.
Sources, such as the National News, initially reported that a fire in a warehouse storing weapons and ammunition caused a series of explosions. Qasim Al Attabi, a spokesman for the district’s health directorate, stated that: “The fire ignited several rockets which struck neighbourhoods several miles away and injuring mainly children.” A security source told Reuters that the facility stored short-range and Katyusha missiles.
According to Jorf News, the explosions destroyed a garage for armoured vehicles, and large parts of Al Saqar camp, including two warehouses each about 1,000 meters in size. The source wrote that while some reported that a fire was caused by negligence and poor storage of ammunition and equipment, and the lack of electrical insulation, others reported a drone strike.
Arab48 claimed that the targeted base belonged to the Popular Mobilization Units and had included missile storage. The source noted that media close to the PMU had claimed the attack was carried out with surface-to-surface missiles, while others said that the attack was carried out with planes.
According to Masrawy News, which referred to the location as Camp Falcon, the explosion killed one person and wounded 28 others. A security source told Masrawy News that it was suspected that the explosion was indeed caused by an Israeli action. The source added that the Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had called for a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident.
The Guardian reported that “an official report leaked to the Associated Press said investigators believed the explosions at the al-Saqr military base on 12 August were the result of a drone strike. The blasts killed one civilian and wounded 28 others.”
Jorf News initially reported that “the Iraqi Ministry of Health announced that (13) people were injured as a result of the explosion of a warehouse of equipment inside Saqr Camp, which includes (4) brigades of the Popular Mobilization Militia, in the Abu Dashir area, south of the capital, Baghdad.”
Khabar Agency also reported that, according to Ministry of Interior spokesman Saad Maan, “the explosion wounded 13 people, including two from the Federal Police and four members of the (Popular Mobilization).”
According to Al Araby, “officials in the Iraqi Police Service said that a warehouse of weapons and ammunition belonging to the Sayyid al-Shuhada Brigades militia, one of the Iraqi armed factions linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, south of the capital, Baghdad, was subjected to a series of explosions, which resulted in one death and wounding 29 people, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health. In addition to large material losses at the headquarters and nearby homes, due to the fall of shrapnel of rockets and missiles from inside the warehouse.”
Al Jazeera News also reported that the explosion at Al Saqr camp was caused by shelling from outside. The source claimed that the camp housed four headquarters of the PMU Brigades including the Badr Organization, Jund al-Imam, and Sayyed al-Shuhada Brigades. The source also claimed that one person was killed, with a further 30 wounded.
According to Al Jazeera, sources claimed the explosion was caused by an airstrike by an unknown aircraft, and added that “security sources and eyewitnesses said that an unidentified aircraft carried out more than one strike on weapons stores inside the camp. The same sources ruled out that the explosion was caused by a technical fault occurred inside the stores, which used to contain large quantities of missiles and bombs belonging to factions of the Popular Mobilization Units, and their volatility led to the casualties mentioned.”
Eurabia reported that the PMF accused the US and Israel for the bombing of the facility. Adel Al Karawi, spokesman for the Ansar Allah Al Loyal Movement in the Popular Mobilization Forces stated that “the data about the outbreak of the Saqr camp fire indicate that the camp was bombed by an American aircraft loaded with missiles.”
Baghdad Today posted a video of civilians leaving their homes to rush to the site of the airstrikes.
RasheedTV spoke to several locals after the strike. Civilians showed the damage to their homes. One local said: “These roofs of the houses are made of thin sheets of metal. A single bullet would make it shake, now imagine what an airstrike would do. Even if it didn’t explode it would completely destroy it – these houses were hit and the windows broke, houses collapsed.”
On August 13th, Huriyat News posted a photo of Baghdad residents who were affected by the event reportedly protesting for the removal and transfer of the Al Saqar base.
On August 16th, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered the formation of a joint committee from all concerned parties to investigate the incident. The Prime Minister also cancelled all flight approvals in Iraqi airspace, wrote Aawsat.
Newsweek reported: “The United States and its coalition allies against the Islamist State militant group (ISIS) in Iraq have agreed to new, stricter airspace regulations issued by the government after a mysterious explosion that caused dozens of civilian casualties.” For the US-led Coalition aircraft to fly, they would need “exclusive approval of the General Commander of the Iraqi Armed Forces or his authorized representative,” otherwise aircraft “will be deemed to be hostile aviation and handled immediately by our air defenses”, said the Iraqi government.
On August 20th, Military.com reported that this restriction, however, did not apply to close-air support or casualty evacuation, according to US army colonel James Rawlinson, who stated: “CJTF-OIR is authorized by the Government of Iraq to provide emergency support to any Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces in danger.”
The incident of August 12th was widely covered by international media. The New York Times, for example, wrote: “Israel has carried out an airstrike on a weapons depot in Iraq that officials said was being used by Iran to move weapons to Syria, an attack that could destabilize Iraq and thrust it deeper into the conflict between the United States and Iran”, adding that it was the first Israeli attack in Iraq in nearly four decades.
The deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Jamal Jaafar Al Ibrahim, blamed American and Israeli aircraft for repeated attacks on the militias local headquarters. While the Israeli military refused to comment on the strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters: “A state that says, ‘We are going to destroy you and we will build bases to fire missiles and to send terrorist cells against you’ — as far as I’m concerned, has no immunity. (…) We will act — and currently are acting — against them, wherever it is necessary.”
The American Department of Defence did comment on the strikes, and stated that “U.S. forces did not conduct the recent attack on a convoy or any recent attacks that resulted in the explosion of ammunition storage facilities in Iraq.”
As a result of the strikes, a group of Iraqi parliamentarians called for the withdrawal of US troops from the country, reported VOA News. On August 26th, the Fatah Coalition stated that it held the US fully responsible for the Israeli strikes, “which we consider to be a declaration of war on Iraq and its people.”
Al Arabiya reported that American officials had confirmed that Israel had been responsible for a strike on a weapon depot in July 2019.
The incident occured in the evening.
Sources (54) [ collapse]
Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention a warehouse being struck within the Al Saqar Base (قاعدة الصقر). Analyizing audio-visual material from sources and comparing it to the location released by @ImageSatIntl, we can confirm that the exact coordinates are: 33.210878, 44.372361.