Iraqi sources in Diyala province told Diyaruna an Iranian company has been working to rehabilitate and expand a military camp north of Baquba that has been taken over in recent years by Iran-backed Iraqi militias.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Iraqi sources said the former Camp Ashraf, located around 18 kilometres north of Baquba, is being refurbished to support militias affiliated with the Iranian regime that work under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).
In addition to the Iran-aligned Badr Organisation, these militias include Kataeb Hizbullah, Harakat al-Nujaba and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, they said.
The camp occupies an area of about 50 square kilometres and includes residential buildings, a school, a health centre and other facilities.
It is now known as Camp Abu Muntadhar al-Muhammadawi, after the operations chief of the Badr militia, who was killed during the battles against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in 2015.
The Iranian company, which Iraqi sources say goes by the name of Ghadeer Khum, has brought in dozens of Iranian workers.
The camp is located on the main road that leads to al-Khalis, where some residents told Diyaruna they are not happy about the company's presence.
Al-Khalis resident Ismail al-Bayati told Diyaruna that on January 14th, the start of a long holiday weekend, workers from the company visited al-Khalis's market to purchase food, and sat in the local cafés until the evening.
The scene was "very provocative to the residents", he said. "They know they are not welcome yet they still come, under the PMF’s protection, which is very offensive."
"Those workers get a salary of $500 per month, of which the Iraqi worker is more deserving," he said.
Another al-Khalis resident, Hussein Jassim, told Diyaruna he has been out of work for a long time.
"We could have done the work," he said of the expansion of the Abu Muntadhar al-Muhammadawi camp.
Violation of Iraqi law
The camp "violates Iraqi law and represents a threat to the security of nearby villages, as it is being prepared to serve as a large arms and ammunition depot", said Lt. Col. Muhammad al-Karawi of the Diyala Operations Command.
"Iraqi law prohibits the presence of explosives or life threatening material at a distance of less than 40 kilometres from cities," he told Diyaruna.
The Iranian company also is developing a smaller warehouse near an oil field on the main road in Khanaqin to turn it into a base for armed militias, he said.
The Iranian company has "violated local laws in force in Iraq by encroaching on the power and water supply networks and dumping solid waste", said al-Khalis district council member Mohammed al-Rubaie, who asked to use a pseudonym.
The company also is in violation of Iraq's foreign companies law, which requires that 60% of its workers be Iraqi, he told Diyaruna.
Any construction or expansion of military bases in Iraq must be done by Iraqis, Iraqi MP for Diyala province Raad al-Dahlaki told Diyaruna.
Iraq is capable of building and equipping its own projects, he said.