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

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.”

Trump says war with Iran 'would not last very long'

Updated 5 min 21 sec ago

Trump says war with Iran 'would not last very long'

  • The comments come just days after Trump cancelled air strikes minutes before impact


WASHINGTON/GENEVA: US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was "not talking boots on the ground" should military action be necessary against Iran, and said any conflict would not last long.
Asked if a war was brewing, Trump told Fox Business Network: "I hope we don't but we're in a very strong position if something should happen."
"I'm not talking boots on the ground," Trump said. "I'm just saying if something would happen, it wouldn't last very long."
The comments come just days after Trump cancelled air strikes minutes before impact, with allies warning that the increase in tensions since the United States pulled out of a nuclear pact with Iran last year could accidentally lead to war.
Iran suggested it was just one day from breaching a threshold in the agreement that limited its stockpile of uranium, a move that would put pressure on European countries that have tried to remain neutral to pick sides.
The fate of the 2015 nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for access to international trade, has been at the heart of the dispute which has escalated and taken on a military dimension in recent weeks.
Washington sharply tightened sanctions last month, aiming to bar all international sales of Iranian oil. It accuses Iran of being behind bomb attacks on ships in the Gulf, which it denies.
Last week, Iran shot down a US drone it said was in its air space, which Washington denied. Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes but called them off at the last minute, later saying too many people would have died.
Although the United States and Iran both say they do not want war, last week's aborted US strikes have been followed by menacing rhetoric on both sides. On Tuesday Trump threatened the "obliteration" of parts of Iran if it struck US interests. President Hassan Rouhani, who normally presents Tehran's mild-mannered face, called White House policy "mentally retarded".
The standoff creates a challenge for Washington which, after quitting the nuclear deal against the advice of European allies, is now seeking their support to force Iran to comply with it.
Over the past few weeks Iran has set a number of deadlines for European countries to protect its economy from the impact of US sanctions or see Tehran reduce compliance with the deal.
A spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation said on Wednesday that one of those deadlines would expire the following day, with Iran potentially exceeding a limit imposed under the deal to keep its stockpile of enriched uranium below 300kg.
"The deadline of the Atomic Energy Organization for passing the production of enriched uranium from the 300 kg limit will end tomorrow," the IRIB news agency quoted spokesman Behrouz Kamalvindi as saying. He added that after the deadline Iran would speed up its rate of producing the material.
Another threshold bars Iran from enriching uranium to a purity beyond 3.67 percent fissile material. It has set a deadline of July 7 after which it could also breach that.
Any such moves would put European countries that oppose Trump's tactics under pressure to take action. They have tried to salvage the nuclear deal by promising to provide Tehran with economic benefits to offset the harm from U.S. sanctions. But so far they have failed, with Iran largely shut from oil markets and all major European companies cancelling plans to invest.
Iran says it would be Washington's fault if it exceeds the 300 kg stockpile threshold. The 2015 deal allows Iran to sell excess uranium abroad to keep its stockpile below the limit, but such sales have been blocked by U.S. sanctions.
The Trump administration says the deal reached under his predecessor Barack Obama was too weak because it is not permanent and does not cover issues outside of the nuclear area, such as Iran's missile programme and its regional behaviour.