Iraq’s Shiite militants vow to oust US troops — by law or force

Every Iraqi will have the legitimate right to confront them by any means if US troops stay in Iraq, says Mohammed Mohie
Updated 07 February 2019
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Iraq’s Shiite militants vow to oust US troops — by law or force

  • After the defeat of Daesh, the Americans are seen by some as an unwanted “occupying force.”

BAGHDAD: Ousting US troops from Iraq despite President Donald Trump’s vow to stay is now the top goal of pro-Iranian Shiite armed groups. And their leaders say there are only two ways — by passing a new law, or by force.

US-Iraq relations have grown tense once again, after a series of ups and downs over the years, from the 1990 Gulf war though crippling sanctions to the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and the fight against Daesh.

But a year after Iraq declared victory over Daesh following a three-year war against the militants in which it was also backed by Iran, the Americans are seen by some as an unwanted “occupying force.”

And if they do stay, “every Iraqi will have the legitimate right to confront them by any means,” warned Mohammed Mohie, spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq, a force close to Iran that has also fought on the side of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

The powerful leader of the Asaib Ahel Al-Haq armed group, Qais Al-Khazali, echoed the warning.

“If we are ever needed, we are ready,” he said.

There were nearly 4,500 US troops killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, including in fighting with Shiite armed groups. But before any decision to take up arms again and spill more blood, Mohie said he wants to give lawmakers a chance to set a time frame for the departure of US troops from Iraq.

A bill has been tabled in Parliament, and there could be a rare show of unanimity in support of it between its two biggest factions: Populist cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr’s alliance, which champions Iraq’s independence, and the pro-Iranian bloc of former anti-Daesh fighters.

“For three years, the main rivalry in Parliament has been among Shiite factions,” said Renad Mansour, a researcher at the Chatham House think-tank.

“They cannot agree on the choice of a minister, but they do on one point: That the experience of having America in Iraq has been bad.” Ironically, the person who has given new impetus to the proposed timetable for American troops to leave Iraq is the US president himself.

At the weekend, Trump provoked indignation even among Washington’s allies in Baghdad when he said he plans to keep American forces in Iraq to keep an eye on Iran.

As a result, US diplomats and military officials in Baghdad were “very worried” and doing everything to “minimize” the impact of the remarks, said Mansour.

Trump had already irritated the Iraqis by not meeting any of the country’s officials during a surprise Christmas visit to US troops stationed less than 200 km from Baghdad.

US forces left Iraq in 2011, only to return in 2014, at the head of the coalition against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

But the US is now seeking to use Iraq as “a base for attacking neighboring countries,” Khazali told AFP.

“Trump does not understand that Iraq is now a strong country. But he can be sure that if he persists, he will pay very dearly,” said the Asaib leader wearing a Shiite white turban.

Mohie said adoption of the bill on a US withdrawal would be the “first step.”

But he swiftly added that “we think the United States will again challenge the popular will” by trying to stay in Iraq.

In that case, Mohie said his forces and others like it would move to the “second step” and take up arms against “an occupying force.”

“The resistance factions have gained capabilities and expertise in the fight against” Daesh, he said.

The experience they gained “will serve to confront any army that threatens Iraq and its sovereignty.”

He said that above all any confrontation would allow Shiite factions “to find an external threat on which to focus attention rather than their internal problems.”


UN begins evacuating refugees from Libya to Niger

Updated 8 min 34 sec ago
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UN begins evacuating refugees from Libya to Niger

GENEVA: The UN said Friday it had evacuated 163 refugees from war-ravaged Libya to neighboring Niger, but more than 3,000 others were still trapped in detention centers affected by clashes.
The move marked the first evacuation of refugees and migrants out of Libya since fighting escalated in Tripoli two weeks ago, the UN refugee agency said.
“Given the situation in Libya, humanitarian evacuations are a lifeline for detained refugees whose lives are in jeopardy in Libya,” UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement.
The operation came as fierce fighting continued between forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar and those backing the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
The renewed fighting has killed over 200 people and left more than 900 wounded, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
More than 25,000 have been displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Dozens of women and children were among those evacuated on the UNHCR flight that landed in Niger early Friday morning.
They had all been held in detention centers near the frontlines of the conflict.
UNHCR said it had previously relocated many of them from the Abu Selim and Ain Zara centers to its Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in the center of the capital.
In all, it said, it had relocated 539 refugees from several detention centers near the immediate fighting zone.
But it said more than 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention in areas where the fighting was raging.
The agency said it remained “extremely concerned” for the safety of those who remain “trapped inside detention centers and exposed to violence.”
Grandi meanwhile hailed Niger for welcoming the refugees and urged other countries to follow suit.
“Niger’s solidarity in receiving these refugees is world-leading and exemplary, but Niger cannot do this alone,” he said.
“There must be shared responsibility and we need other countries to come forward to lend a hand and help bring vulnerable refugees out of Libya to safety.”
UNHCR issued an urgent appeal to the international community to find solutions for all the trapped and detained refugees in Libya.
Among other things, it said there was a need for evacuations and humanitarian corridors to allow refugees in its GDF in Tripoli to find safety abroad.
It also said new such spaces were needed, since the facility had only limited capacity.