Iranian killed at PMF base in Iraq

Martyrdom poster of Abolfazl Sarabian, who was reportedly killed at the Iraqi base on Friday.

On Monday, funeral ceremonies were held in Iran for an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) member killed in Iraq last Friday.

The circumstances around an explosion in a Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) base near Amerli in Iraq’s central Salahadin Governorate that led to the individual’s death remain unclear.

Iranian media has blamed the incident on “American-Israeli drones,” while the PMF has tried to downplay the incident.

Last Friday, Arab media reported an attack on a PMF base near Amerli, which caused a substantial explosion and subsequent fire. Rumors ranged from drone strikes conducted by the United States or the Islamic State, to a missile strike.

The base in question belongs to the PMF’s 16th Brigade, which correlates to units of the Turkmen Brigades and the Iranian-backed Badr Organization. As such, Iranians and members of Lebanese Hezbollah were reportedly killed in the attack.

Additional rumors circulated that the base housed Iranian ballistic missiles, but that remains unconfirmed. Since the event, different narratives have been reported by various officials and outlets.

Shortly after the explosion on Friday, Mahdi Taqi al Amerli – an Iraqi Turkmen regional deputy affiliated with the Badr Organization – said that the base was definitely hit by either a missile or a drone strike

Then on Sunday, Ali al Husayni, a PMF media official for its ‘northern axis’ operations, also said that the base was hit by a missile or drone strike.

While some other officials speculated that the attack could have been perpetrated by the Islamic State, both al Amerli and al Husayni instead blamed the US and Israel for the attack – mirroring official Iranian language.

Despite the reports of a drone strike on the base, the PMF has officially denied these claims. In a statement released on Sunday, the PMF said that its investigation into the incident has found the explosion inside the base was the result of a “solid fuel fire caused by internal errors.” It also denied any casualties in the fire. 

No other explanation was given for how the alleged fire might have started.

But on Monday, Iranian media announced that Abolfazl Sarabian was killed in the “dishonorable attack by American-Israeli drones.” Hailing from the western Kermanshah Province, he was given a funeral ceremony with full state honors.

No unit or rank was immediately given. An official told the media that he was a religious singer, though the funeral posters show him wearing military uniform and wielding weapons. His appearance and approximate age suggests Sarabian could have been a senior IRGC officer.

If Sarabian was indeed a Qods Force member, Iranian media and officials would have every reason to try and obfuscate that. 

Despite some claims to the contrary, the Islamic State has so far not claimed responsibility for any strike on the PMF in Salahadin since the speculations of its involvement began on Friday.

However, it has reported several attacks on the forces in nearby Diyala Governorate since then. That includes two assaults on the PMF near Jalawla, which sits not far from the PMF base in Amerli.

The US has also denied responsibility for any strike in the vicinity, adding to the confusing narratives being reported by Iraqi and Iranian media.

Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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