Al Sudani says Iraq committed to protecting US-led coalition personnel

Pledge by Iraqi leader in call with UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron follows surge in attacks by Iran-backed Shiite militias

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani said he would 'work to prevent the escalation' of the Israel-Gaza war. AFP
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani has renewed his government’s commitment to protecting US personnel in Iraq from Iran-backed militias attacks.

In a phone call with UK Foreign Minister David Cameron late on Monday, Mr Al Sudani discussed the “security and political situation in the region and the developments regarding the Palestinian cause”, the Iraqi government said.

Mr Al Sudani “indicated to the Iraqi government the commitment to protect military advisers on Iraqi soil”.

They also discussed the continuation of the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas. A four-day pause in fighting began on Friday and has been extended until Wednesday.

Mr Al Sudani and Mr Cameron agreed to “work to stop the aggression and prevent the escalation of the conflict”, said the Iraqi government.

Iran-allied Iraqi Shiite militias have launched numerous attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria since the start of the Israel-Gaza war.

US forces have faced almost daily rocket and drone attacks in retaliation for Washington's support of Israeli bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza, in which more than 15,000 people have been killed so far.

Israel's attacks followed assaults by Hamas on Israeli settlements on October 7, in which around 1,200 people were killed and 240 abducted.

In Iraq, US forces have been targeted at Al Asad Airbase, in Al Anbar province in western Iraq, a base near Baghdad International Airport and Harir Airport in the northern city of Erbil, in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Some of the main Iraqi factions behind the recent attacks – Kataib Hezbollah, Kataib Sayyid Al Shuhada, Al Nujabaa Movement and Ansar Allah Al Awfiya – observed the four-day truce between Israel and Hamas.

It is still unclear if these groups will abide by the two-day extension.

EU ambassador to Iraq Thomas Seiler said in a social media post on X that he hopes Iraqi factions “continue with their cessation of attacks”.

“Iraqi people often tell me they want peace, security and stability,” said Mr Seiler.

Militias involved in the attacks against the US troops are part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella grouping of paramilitary organisations, consisting primarily of powerful Iran-backed militias.

Ostensibly, the government supervises the body, but in reality, official security forces have limited control over them.

In response to recent attacks on its bases, the US had primarily conducted retaliatory air strikes against militia sites in Syria.

But last week, American forces launched strikes inside Iraq for the first time since the Israel-Gaza war began.

Hours after US forces were attacked at Ain Al Asad airbase, an AC-130 aircraft responded, killing one Iran-backed militant linked to Kataib Hezbollah.

The following day, the US struck the operations centre of the same group in Jurf Al Sakhar, south of Baghdad, killing eight militants and wounding five.

The militias have vowed revenge.

Iraq's government condemned the US attacks as a “dangerous escalation and a breach of Iraqi sovereignty”.

It said the strikes were a “clear overstepping” of the task of the US-led international coalition, which is supporting Iraqi forces with training and advice.

In 2003, the US led an international coalition to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, claiming it was developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

None were found in Iraq and the country was plunged into chaos.

At its peak in 2007, the coalition force numbered 170,000 soldiers.

Nine years after the invasion, the US withdrew, leaving behind a small number of troops to protect its embassy and to train and assist Iraqis.

But in 2014, combat troops returned to fight ISIS, which controlled about a third of the country at the time.

The US now has around 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in neighbouring Syria, on a mission it says aims to advise and assist local forces to prevent a resurgence of ISIS.

Updated: November 28, 2023, 9:08 AM