It was an explosion at an Iran-aligned Shiite militia base in an obscure corner of Iraq—at worst, it could have had global implications, by plunging the United States and Iran into a dangerous new round of escalation.
The speculation on social media about the incident last week was rife: Perhaps it was a U.S. or Israeli air strike against Iranian weapons or proxies. On the heels of the U.S. downing of an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, either seemed possible, especially since Iraq’s militia already had the potential to become the next flashpoint in the U.S.-Iran crisis. The fevered conjecture even led the U.S. to issue a statement, saying Washington was not involved in the incident.
The reports that emerged in the following hours and days suggested more mundane scenarios. The Iraqi military said the base had been hit by a grenade dropped from a drone—a relatively unsophisticated style of attack that ISIS often deploys and that anyone with a consumer drone and some mechanical skill could carry out. Then, on Monday, an Iraqi media report said the militia had launched its own investigation into the explosion and determined it was caused by a fire.
The confusion over the explosion—and the fact that such an obscure event came into such intense focus in the first place—underlines the unease now gripping the region. A tangled web of actors and incidents, from Iranian proxies in Iraq to the seizure of oil tankers and destruction of military drones in the Persian Gulf, now holds the potential for the next escalation. It might even be sparked by an ISIS militant flying a drone overnight, the artificial intelligence running a drone-jamming system aboard a U.S. warship, or a random fire.