Call for ex­pul­sion of US troops in Iraq

Move af­ter deadly airstrike could lead to resur­gence of IS

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Qassim Ab­dul-Zahra and Bassem Mroue

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.

HOS­SEIN MERSADI/FARS NEWS AGENCY VIA GETTY-AFP

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.

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