Blasts hit US army in Iraq, pro-Iran militias suspected

The blasts could be part of an Iranian campaign by proxy ahead of the next round of US-Iraq strategic dialogue.
Tuesday 11/08/2020
A file picture shows US military vehicles, part of a convoy arriving from northern Iraq, drive through the countryside of Syria’s northeastern city of Qamishli, in October 2019. (AFP)
A file picture shows US military vehicles, part of a convoy arriving from northern Iraq, drive through the countryside of Syria’s northeastern city of Qamishli, in October 2019. (AFP)

BAGHDAD--At least two explosions have hit convoys supplying US-led coalition forces in Iraq in the last 24 hours, security sources said, the first on Monday evening near the southern border with Kuwait and the second on Tuesday north of Baghdad.

The explosions, which caused no casualties but did some material damage, are the latest in a string of such incidents in recent weeks. An attack in southern Iraq on Sunday hit a convoy carrying supplies to coalition forces, the military said.

Several thousand US forces are still based in Iraq, leading a coalition whose mission is to fight Islamic State extremists.

Those forces are also a target for Iran-backed Shia militias, which the United States blames for regular rocket attacks on bases hosting the coalition, and on other US targets such as Washington’s embassy in Baghdad.

The militias have vowed to avenge the death of paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed alongside Iranian military Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad in January. Political forces aligned with the militias demand a full withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

They also oppose Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who took office in May. He is viewed as friendly with the United States and has challenged the power of Iran-aligned armed groups in Iraq.

Explosions and denials

Tuesday’s explosion near the Taji military base north of Baghdad caused a fire to a container on one vehicle, the Iraqi military said in a statement. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast.

The explosion on Monday night near the Jraischan border crossing between Iraq and Kuwait targeted a convoy carrying equipment for US forces, three sources from different branches of Iraq’s security services and military said.

The Iraqi military denied that incident took place.

Kuwait’s military on Twitter also denied any attack along its border with Iraq.

Vehicles are regularly loaded with military equipment at the crossing, the security sources said, and cargo is usually loaded or unloaded before entering or exiting Iraq.

Foreign companies are contracted by US forces to provide security in the area, the Iraqi security sources said.

‘Companions of the Cave’

A little known Iraqi Shia militia group by the name of Ashab al-Kahf claimed responsibility for the attack and published a video showing an explosion at a distance. It said it was able to destroy US military equipment and large parts of the crossing.

The group issued a statement overnight claiming it destroyed “equipment and vehicles belonging to the American enemy” in a bombing targeting a border crossing south of the Iraqi city of Basra.

It later published an 11-second video clip it claimed showed the blast, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant groups.

The out-of-focus video shows what appeared to be an explosion and lights in the distance, with a man speaking in Arabic. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the video.

US Army Major John Rigsbee, a Central Command spokesman, said the American military was looking into reports of the explosion.

The Iraqi military issued a statement early Tuesday through the state-run Iraqi News Agency denying an attack took place

Ashab al-Kahf means “Companions of the Cave” in Arabic, referring to a Christian and Islamic story about youths escaping religious persecution hiding in a cave for hundreds of years.

The group has emerged alongside renewed threats by Shia militias amid rising tensions between the US and Iran. In January, an American drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad. Tehran responded with a ballistic missile attack that wounded dozens of American troops at a military base in Iraq.

The SITE Intelligence Group has referred to Ashab al-Kahf as “reportedly an Iranian proxy unit.” The group initially threatened US forces in April and claimed an attack on a convoy in July.

According to experts, the blasts could be part of an Iranian campaign by proxy ahead of the next round of US-Iraq strategic dialogue scheduled in Washington later this month.