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US stands with Iraqi PM against Iran-backed militias: Pompeo

The United States supports Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in his “push” against Iran-backed militants in the country, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday.

“We are standing with the Iraqi prime minister, my friend Kadhimi, in his push against Iranian-backed militias,” Pompeo said during a video conference organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. 

Pompeo’s comments come one day after the US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller confirmed the “temporary” withdrawal of some diplomatic staff from Iraq, which Iraqi officials said stems from security concerns. 

The US embassy in Baghdad has often been targeted by rocket attacks from Iran-backed groups, and was stormed by supporters of Iran-backed militias at the end of last year.

Rocket attacks resumed against the US embassy last month after a 40-day ceasefire.

The US previously threatened to withdraw all troops and close its embassy if Kadhimi was unable to rein in Iran-backed groups, most of whom are in or linked to the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi) – an umbrella network of militias. 

Pompeo also praised the US assassination of Iranian top commander Qasem Soleimani in January. The killing of the top Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC) commander and PMF deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis  prompted a flurry of rocket attacks on Iraqi bases hosting US troops, and led to a non-binding Iraqi parliament to expel US troops from the country.

Elements of the PMF are also said to be behind the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi protesters and activists since demonstrations began last October.

Kadhimi has previously vowed to hold the perpetrators to justice, but little progress has been made.