Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 14 October 2019

Iraqi politicians renew call for full foreign troop withdrawal

Momentum is gathering after a push by Iran-backed deputies that could leave the country vulnerable to ISIS

A US soldier stands guard near a school in the town of Iskandiriyah in Iraq's Babel province, 45 kms south of Baghdad, Iraq.  AFP 
A US soldier stands guard near a school in the town of Iskandiriyah in Iraq's Babel province, 45 kms south of Baghdad, Iraq.  AFP 

Momentum is building for a campaign to expel foreign troops from Iraq, which could leave the country exposed to militant groups such as ISIS and those backed by Iran.

More than 50 members of Al Sadiqoun bloc, the political wing of pro-Iranian paramilitary group Asaib Al Haq, signed a draft bill on Monday night calling for the expulsion of foreign troops from Iraq.

The group, which is led by an anti-American commander Qais Al Kazali, could be one of the many to benefit from the withdrawal of US troops, granting them further influence and reducing outside intervention.

There are more than 5,000 US troops in Iraq, training and advising Iraqi forces and helping them to carry out counter-terrorism missions.

The bill urged parliament to discuss this issue during Tuesday's session but parliamentary sources told The National that it was not on the agenda.

The move comes as the US accused Iran of being behind drone attacks on Saudi Aramco oil facilities at the weekend.

Some speculated that the attacks had been launched from Iraq after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was no evidence that the drones had come from Yemen, despite the attacks being claimed by the country's Houthi rebels.

Baghdad has strongly denied the claims but officials have expressed concern that Iraq could become the ground for a conflict between Washington and Tehran. Iraq is home to several Iran-backed militias.

This is not the first time Iran-affiliated deputies in Parliament have expressed their desire for a full withdrawal of foreign troops.

“These politicians are pushing for this issue to be discussed during Tuesday's parliamentary session,” Sarkwat Al Shamsi, a member of Parliament, told The National.

Mr Al Shamsi expressed his reservations about the bill because ISIS remained a threat in the country, and said the only way to resolve the issue of the presence of foreign troops was through diplomacy.

“Other members of Parliament are fearful to express their opinion but I say it out loudly,” he said.

Sixteen years after the US-led invasion of Iraq and the toppling of former dictator Saddam Hussein, the presence of foreign, particularly US forces still draws strong opinions.

“We need to continue collaborating with foreign troops against the imminent threat of ISIS because it is far from over," an Iraqi official said. “It’s imperative that Parliament dismisses this motion."

Iraqi President Barham Salih said in April that there was a "general consensus" that Iraq needed continued collaboration with US forces, which could continue "as long as necessary".

Despite the announcement of ISIS's defeat in Syria last March, Mr Salih said the threat from the group was far from over.

Although former prime minister Haider Al Abadi declared victory over ISIS in Iraq in 2017, the group reverted to a guerrilla-style insurgency and continues to carry out attacks across the country.

A US-led coalition was formed in 2014 to help Iraqi security forces and a Kurdish-led Syrian militia fight the group after it seized large areas of Iraq and Syria.

Updated: September 18, 2019 02:01 AM

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