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.”


US-backed SDF hand Iraqi, foreign Daesh fighters to Iraq

Updated 15 min 8 sec ago
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US-backed SDF hand Iraqi, foreign Daesh fighters to Iraq

  • The handover was the first of several under an agreement brokered to handover a total of 502 fighters
  • News of the handover came as US-backed forces were readying for an assault on the militant group’s final enclave in eastern Syria

BAGHDAD: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) handed over more than 150 Iraqi and other foreign Daesh fighters to Iraq on Thursday.
The handover was the first of several, two Iraqi military sources told Reuters, under an agreement brokered to handover a total of 502 fighters.
“The majority of the fighters are Iraqi,” said a military colonel whose unit is stationed at the Syrian border. “But we have a few foreigners.”
The mayor of Iraqi border town Al-Qaim, Ahmed Al-Mahallawi, said some fighters’ families were also transferred.
“Early this morning, 10 trucks loaded with Daesh fighters and their families were handed over by SDF forces to the Iraqi army,” he said.
“The majority of them are Iraqis and the convoy was under maximum security protection headed to the Jazeera and Badiya military headquarters.” Both bases are located in Anbar province.
The SDF and the US-backed coalition could not immediately be reached for comment.
News of the handover came as US-backed forces were readying for an assault on the militant group’s final enclave in eastern Syria. The last civilians are expected to be evacuated on Thursday, to clear the way for the assault, the SDF said.
Around 800 of foreign extremist fighters who joined Daesh, including many Iraqis, are being held in Syria by the SDF, the group said. More than 2,000 family members are also in camps, with dozens more arriving each day.
Their fate has become more pressing in recent days as US-backed fighters planned their assault to capture the last remnants of the group’s self-styled caliphate.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Iraq was carefully monitoring the situation at its Syrian border amid concerns that the remaining Daesh fighters could stream across the border.
The militant group still poses a threat in Iraq and some western officials believe that the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, may still be hiding there.