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Iran-backed militia claims its base in Iraq attacked by airstrike amid regional tensions, one killed

It has not been verified who launched the airstrike at the Kalso base, which happened in the backdrop of Israel's suspected attack on Iran that fuelled tensions of a regional war. While the Iran-aligned militia blamed American forces, Washington said there were no US airstrikes in Iraq.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Baghdad Published on: April 20, 2024 10:54 IST
Iraq, Iran backed militia base attacked
Image Source : REUTERS A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday.

Baghdad: The coalition of Iran-allied militias in Iraq, known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, claimed that an airstrike hit its base in Iraq on early Saturday. One PMF fighter was killed and six were wounded after the attack on the Kalso military base, north of Babylon, which was a former US post that was handed to the Iraqi military in 2011, according to two sources at a hospital in the nearby city of Hilla.

"The blast has caused material damage and injuries," PMF said in a statement, adding that a team was investigating. It was not clear who was responsible for the purported attack, which came a day after a suspected Israeli strike in Iran that appeared to have escalated the boiling tensions of an all-out regional war, but the militia officials blamed US forces. However, a US official said there were no US airstrikes in Iraq.

 

The PMF is a coalition of primarily Shiite, Iran-backed armed groups that joined in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group after it seized large sections of Iraq in 2014. In 2016, the Iraqi government designated the Popular Mobilisation Forces as an “independent military formation” within the Iraqi armed forces. In recent months, some PMF member groups staged attacks on US forces based in Iraq and Syria, which they said was in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel in the war against the Hamas group in Gaza.

Israel's suspected attack on Iran

Iran and Israel have apparently moved out of decades of shadow conflict to direct confrontations as the latter is suspected to have launched a drone attack on the central Iranian city of Isfahan, which houses several nuclear sites, on Thursday night, in response to Iran's attack on Israel on Saturday. This fuelled further concerns that the Israel-Hamas war is spilling onto a wider conflict in the Middle East.

However, both countries downplayed the drone attack, with Tehran saying there was no external assault as world leaders called on Iran and Israel to try to avoid escalating tensions. Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting in Italy urged both countries to show restraint. The muted response shows that both countries are ready to prevent an escalation to regional warfare. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said the United States was not involved in any “offensive operations” in the apparent Israeli drone attack in Iran, but declined to respond to claims that Israel gave the US advance notice of the action.

Israel has long considered Iran to be its greatest enemy — citing the Islamic Republic’s calls for Israel’s destruction, its controversial nuclear program and its support for hostile proxies across the Middle East. These tensions have risen since Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on October 7 and killed 1,200 people, sparking a devastating Israeli offensive in Gaza that has gone on for six months with no end in sight, killing over 34,000 Palestinians. Things further worsened on April 1 when Iran claimed Israel attacked its embassy in Syria, which killed 12 people including a high-profile military commander.

Iran's foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Friday said Tehran was investigating an overnight attack on Iran, adding that so far a link to Israel had not been proven as he downplayed the strike. "They're ... more like toys that our children play with, not drones... It has not been proved to us that there is a connection between these and Israel," Amir-Abdollahian said.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from air defences hitting three drones over Isfahan in central Iran in the early hours of Friday. They referred to the incident as an attack by "infiltrators", rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation. Amir-Abdollahian warned that if Israel retaliated and acted against the interests of Iran, Tehran's next response would be immediate and at the maximum level.

Do people want retaliation?

Opinion polls in Israel have appeared to show no overwhelming desire for retaliation, with one poll on Thursday showing 48 per cent in favour of responding even if it meant expanding the conflict with 52 per cent preferring not to respond. "We're good, you can look around, we're happy here, not from the attack but I think the situation in the Middle East is complicated but Israel will always win and everybody has to know that," said Pavlo Tzuk, a resident of central Israel.

The prospect of Israeli retaliation has alarmed many Iranians already enduring economic pain and tighter social and political controls since major protests in 2022-23. Since the war in Gaza began in October, clashes have erupted between Israel and Iran-aligned groups based in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Israel had warned for days that it was planning to retaliate against Iran for Saturday's strikes, the first ever direct attack on Israel by Iran in decades of shadow war waged by proxies which has escalated throughout the Middle East through six months of battle in Gaza. Iran's response was unprecedented but caused no deaths and only minor damage because Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of missiles and drones. 

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | No immediate plans for retaliation, says senior Iranian official after reported Israeli attack

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