Call for expulsion of US troops in Iraq
Move after deadly airstrike could lead to resurgence of IS
Move made by Iraqi parliament after deadly airstrike could lead to resurgence of Islamic State group.
BAGHDAD — The backlash over the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general mounted Sunday as Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of American troops from the country — a move that could allow a resurgence of the Islamic State group.
Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces more than four years ago to help fight IS. The bill is nonbinding and subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.
The vote was another sign of the blowback from the U.S. airstrike Friday that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a number of top Iraqi officials at the Baghdad airport. Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s proxy wars across the Mideast and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in roadside bombings and other attacks.
Amid threats of vengeance from Iran, the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq said Sunday it is putting the battle against IS militants on hold to focus on protecting its own troops and bases.
In a strong speech before lawmakers in Parliament, Prime Minister Adel AbdulMahdi said that after the killing of Soleimani, the government has two choices: End the presence of foreign troops in Iraq or restrict their mission to training Iraqi forces. He called for “urgent measures” to remove foreign forces — including the estimated 5,200 U.S. troops.
Asked shortly before the parliamentary vote whether the U.S. would comply with an Iraqi government request for American troops to leave, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not answer directly, saying the U.S. was watching the situation.
President Donald Trump said the U.S. wouldn’t leave without being paid for its military investments in Iraq over the years — then said if the troops do have to withdraw, he would levy punishing economic penalties on Baghdad.
“We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” he said. “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”
He added: “We’re not leaving until they pay us back for it.”
Abdul-Mahdi resigned last year in response to anti-government protests that have engulfed Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Political factions have been unable to agree on a new prime minister, and Abdul-Mahdi continues in a caretaker capacity. Experts said such a government is not legally authorized to sign such a law.
Pentagon officials have said the Iraqi government does not have to give one year’s notice to expel American troops, as was required under a previous U.S.-Iraqi agreement.
The death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in the drone attack has especially drawn the ire of Iraqi officials, who considered the airstrike an infringement of Iraqi sovereignty. Al-Muhandis was deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries folded under the Iraqi military.
American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle IS after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.
A pullout of U.S. troops could cripple the fight against the Islamic State and allow it to make a comeback. Militants affiliated with IS routinely carry out attacks in northern and western Iraq, hiding out in rugged desert and mountainous areas. Iraqi forces rely on the U.S. for logistics and weapons.
An American withdrawal could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq, also a majority Shiite country.
The attack that killed Soleimani has dramatically escalated regional tensions. Because of the dangers, the U.S.-led military coalition said it is suspending the training of Iraqi forces and other operations in support of the battle against ISIS.
Also, the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group vowed to end the U.S. military’s presence in the Middle East, saying U.S. bases, warships and soldiers are now fair targets.
“The suicide attackers who forced the Americans to leave from our region in the past are still here and their numbers have increased,” Hassan Nasrallah said. It was not clear which suicide bombings Nasrallah was referring to. But a 1983 attack on a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut killed 241 U.S. servicemen and led President Ronald Reagan to withdraw all American forces from the country.
A man holds a poster of slain Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, left, and Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Sunday in Ahvaz, Iran.