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US military presence rattles Iran-linked militias in Iraq: Report

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Repercussions from recent visits by US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Iraq are still playing out in the country, especially among Iran-backed militia leaders, a recent report by The Arab Weekly said.

The militia leaders in Iraq, according to the report, want the government to take side with Iran in the face of US sanctions against Tehran. “They were also rattled by reports that some Iraqi militias had been blacklisted by Washington.”

The report also noted that visits by top US officials and measures by the Trump administration against Iran “prompted Iraqi militia leaders to reiterate calls for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.”

Speaking to AP, Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) militia said he expected a vote calling for the withdrawal of US troops.

“If the United States wants to impose its presence by force and to bypass the Iraqi constitution and parliament, Iraq can treat it the same way and drive it out by force… but the first phase is political,” Khazali said indicating the parliamentary vote.

Moreover, Aws al-Khafaji, a militia leader, expressed in a TV interview his fears that US troops could be welcomed by many Iraqis who are against the Baghdad government.

“I fear that if the Americans come in, the people, who have become desperate, would turn against the state like Saddam,” said Khafaji, referring to the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003,” he said.

“We don’t like the Americans but we were silent when they came for Saddam. We were happy and said: ‘Let them take him.’ We fear this may be repeated. They (Iraqi officials) should be careful.”

Observers explained that some Iraqi politicians consider the US presence in Iraq as a counterbalance to Iran’s influence in Iraq, according to the report.

“Some political parties are supporting the presence of US troops because they are not able to face the Iran-backed politicians in Baghdad,” Mohammed al-Qaisy, an Iraqi analyst, was quoted saying.

Ghaith al-Tamimi, president of the Iraqi Centre for Diversity Management, expressed his welcome to aid from countries that promised to counter Iran in Iraq. “The presence of US troops in Iraq is very necessary if the project includes expelling the militias and narrowing Iranian influence.

He also added that Iraq “needs international support for Iraq’s national moderates in order to stop spreading of cancer of Iran’s militias in Iraq.”

The report quoted Salah Hassan Ibrahim, a journalist from Anbar, as saying that many people in the province expect there will be clashes between Iran-backed militias and US troops. “There is support for US troops presence by Sunni tribal powers and citizens,” Ibrahim said.

Sheikh Muzahim al-Hewitt, spokesman of the Arab tribes in Nineveh province, said he welcomed the presence of US troops in Sunni areas as a deterrent to “the crimes of militias and agendas supported by Iran,” the report added.

“We reject naming US troops as occupation forces. They are [liberation forces] and we, as Arab tribes, informed the American side of our full support to them,” Hewitt said.

Eid Ammash, a member of the Anbar provincial council, attributed the presence of a US base in the province to logistical reasons to fight ISIS.

“Those who are in Ain al-Asad Airbase are there at the invitation of Iraq to train Iraqi forces to fight ISIS,” Ammash said. “They are trainers, consultants and military experts for logistic support for the US-led-coalition against ISIS.”

Legal expert Tariq Harb said the presence of US troops in Iraq was covered by a “US-Iraq strategic framework agreement”, adding that MPs who collected signatures on the withdrawal of US troops have not formally tabled a motion in the legislature. “It is still just talk, no motion, no proposal, nothing,” Harb said.

The report concluded saying that “Iran has been proactive in trying to counter US sanctions, sending top officials to Baghdad rather than rely on proxies.”

Last Modified: Sunday، 03 February 2019 02:30 PM
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