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By law or force: IMIS vows to oust US troops from Iraq

Leader of Asaib Ahel al-Haq armed group Qais al-Khazali
Ousting US troops from Iraq despite Donald Trump's vow to stay is now the top goal of Iranian Militants in Iraq and Syria (IMIS). 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 the ISIS.

But a year after Iraq declared victory over ISIS following a three-year war against the jihadists, the Americans are seen by the pro-Iran militias 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 al-Assad in Syria.

The powerful leader of the Asaib Ahel al-Haq (League of the Righteous) armed group, Qais al-Khazali, echoed the warning.

"If we are ever needed, we are ready," he said.

Americans 'very worried'

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 timeframe 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 Sadr's alliance, which champions Iraq's independence, and the pro-Iranian bloc of former anti-ISIS 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.

At the weekend, Trump 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.

Step by step

US forces left Iraq in 2011, only to return in 2014, at the head of the coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

But the United States 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 ISIS," 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."
Last Modified: Thursday، 07 February 2019 06:45 PM