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Iraq: Explosive drones hit Erbil as Hashd al-Shaabi parades near Baghdad

The controversial Iran-backed militia displayed its military strength on the seventh anniversary of its creation
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi attends a parade by thousands of Hashd al-Shaabi fighters (AFP)

Three explosives-laden drones have hit a building near northern Iraq's capital city Erbil, where the United States has a consulate, Iraqi Kurdish officials said on Saturday.

The attack came as Hashd al-Shaabi, a pro-Iran paramilitary alliance opposed to the US presence in Iraq, held a military parade near Baghdad attended by senior officials.

The drone attack had occurred overnight, Kurdish officials said, with two striking a house and causing damage while the third drone failed to explode.

The US consulate condemned the assault in a tweet, saying "this attack represents a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty".

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The US has previously blamed attacks on its presence in Iraq on Iran-backed factions of the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary forces.  

Since the start of the year, there have been 43 attacks against US interests in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the Islamic State (IS) group.

The vast majority have been attacks against logistics convoys, some of them claimed by pro-Iran factions that aim to pressure Washington into withdrawing all US troops.

In April, a drone packed with explosives hit the coalition's Iraq headquarters in the military part of the airport in Erbil.

In May, a drone packed with explosives hit the Ain al-Asad airbase, which houses US troops.

On 9 June, three explosives-laden drones targeted Baghdad airport, where US soldiers are also deployed. One was intercepted by the Iraqi army.

Hashd al-Shaabi on parade

On Saturday, thousands of Hashd al-Shaabi fighters paraded near Baghdad to mark the seventh anniversary of the creation of the alliance. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi attended the parade, despite recent tensions with some of the controversial Iran-backed factions. 

The fighters paraded drones and rocket launchers, while hundreds of armoured vehicles drove past a banner of the late Hashd al-Shaabi military chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed in a US drone strike last year alongside Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. 

"I esteem your sacrifices, and the sacrifices of the Iraqi armed forces in fighting Islamic State," Kadhimi said in a speech, warning against any "sedition" within Hashd al-Shaabi without elaborating.

Founded to fight IS, the Shia militias have grown increasingly influential in Iraqi security and politics. 

As well as being accused of repeatedly attacking bases housing the remaining US forces in Iraq, Iran-backed factions are also accused of killing protesters who took to the streets in late 2019 demanding the removal of Iraq's ruling elite.

The groups deny involvement in the killings of the activists.

Hashd al-Shaabi's social media accounts published photos and videos from the parade

Earlier in June, Iraqi authorities released Hashd al-Shaabi's Anbar province chief Qassim Musleh, who had been arrested last month in connection with the killing of two activists. 

Kadhimi, a US-friendly interim premier, has tried to crack down on the powerful Iran-backed factions but without success because of their military strength and political influence.