Iraqi government rejects Tehran-allied militia attacks against US troops

The groups say they are attacking American troops because of Washington's support for Israel in its war with Palestinian militant group Hamas

People hold Palestinian flags as supporters of Iraqi Shiite armed groups gather during a protest against the US for supporting Israel, in Najaf, Iraq. Reuters
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani has ordered security forces to clamp down on rogue militias linked to Iran, who have launched a wave of attacks on US forces who are training the official army.

Security forces must “pursue the perpetrators of these attacks and not allowing under any circumstances any harm to security and stability,” he said on Monday.

Under the country's 2005 constitution, Iraq's prime minister is the commander in chief of the armed forces, but military power remains spread between powerful armed groups with differing political loyalties.

Tehran-allied militias began a surge of attacks on bases hosting US troops with drones and missiles last week, while pledging support for Hamas, which launched a massive surprise attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,400, mostly civilians, and triggering Israeli bombing raids in Gaza, killing nearly 5,000, also mainly civilians.

Attacks have hit Ain Al Asad in western Iraq, a military base near Baghdad's international airport and Harir in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.

The militias say they are going after American troops because of Washington's support for Israel in its war with Hamas, a Palestinian armed group formed in the late 1980s, which was later backed by Iran. The Iraqi military, which owns the bases, has condemned the attacks, which have in the past killed and wounded Iraqi soldiers, as well as US personnel.

“We confirm our rejection of the attacks that target Iraqi bases which include the headquarters of international coalition advisers,” Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasool said.

Those troops, he said, are in Iraq “upon an invitation from the Iraqi government to continue their work in supporting our security forces through training and consultancy”.

Their presence is “based on a clear mechanism endorsed by the official and diplomatic channels and there can be no compromise on the security and safety of those forces”.

Mr Al Sudani, who took office in October 2022, was the nominee of the Iran-aligned Co-ordination Framework, the largest political group in the Iraqi parliament with 138 out of 329 seats. The group comprises powerful Iran-backed Shiite militias and political parties.

Boost relations

Since then, Washington has grown increasingly worried over the power of the Shiite militias. It has been pressing Iraq to introduce reforms mainly economic, urging it to boost relations with its neighbours to counter Iran's influence.

Iraq is caught in the middle of US-Iran rivalry and regional tensions, particularly due to its diplomatic and geographic closeness to Iran.

It is unlikely that the government position will change the reality on the ground, Hadi Jalo Marie, chairman of the Political Decision think tank in Baghdad, told The National.

“I can’t see any impact for the government statement on the armed factions because their ideology is different from the government one and this was the case with previous governments,” Mr Marie said.

“There are always two parallel lines: The official Iraqi one which has understandings with the US and the other Iraq which opposes the American presence,” he added.

Previous governments, mainly the last one led by the pro-US prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, tried to rein in the influence of the Iran-backed militias but failed.

On different occasions, Mr Al Kadhimi’s government arrested a number of militiamen accused on firing rockets on the US embassy and troops or seen behind killing pro-democracy activists but were later released under pressure.

There are about 2,500 US troops still in Iraq on an advisory and training mission, but their presence remains controversial.

After defeating ISIS, Iran-backed Shiite militias and Tehran have called for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Updated: October 23, 2023, 12:47 PM