Iraq preparing to remove US-led coalition, says PM

Move to end presence of foreign troops, including about 2,500 Americans, follows US strike against militia leader in Baghdad

A US army trainer watches an Iraqi recruit at a military base in Taji, Iraq. Getty Images
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The Iraqi government is beginning the process of removing the US-led international military coalition, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani's office said on Friday.

The US has about 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria on a mission it claims advises and assists local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of ISIS, which in 2014 seized large parts of both countries before being defeated.

Mr Al Sudani's statement came a day after a US strike killed a militia leader in Baghdad, prompting anger among Iran-aligned groups which demanded the government end the presence of the coalition in Iraq.

“Government is setting the date for the start of the bilateral committee to put arrangements to end the presence of the international coalition forces in Iraq permanently,” a statement from the prime minister's office said.

The committee would include representatives of the military coalition, a government official said.

The US military said the air strike on Thursday was in retaliation against recent attacks on US personnel in Iraq and Syria.

On Friday, an armed drone hit Iraq’s Al Harir airbase, where US and international forces are stationed, Iraqi Kurdistan’s counter-terrorism service said.

The statement did not mention casualties or damage.

US Central Command also said Iraqi police in Babylon discovered a land attack cruise missile of Iranian design.

“The use of Iranian supplied munitions by terrorist groups within Iraq and Syria endanger Coalition forces and local residents. The Coalition is appreciative of the efforts of the legitimate security forces in Iraq for their efforts to prevent future attacks,” Centcom said.

Iran-aligned militia groups in Iraq and Syria oppose Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip and hold the US partly responsible.

Mr Al Sudani has limited control over some Iran-backed factions, whose support he needed to win power a year ago and who now form a powerful bloc in his governing coalition.

“We stress our firm position in ending the existence of the international coalition after the justifications for its existence have ended,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.

ISIS claimed responsibility on Thursday for two explosions in Iran that killed nearly 100 people and wounded scores at a memorial for assassinated Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp commander Qassem Suleimani.

A political adviser close to the Iraqi prime minister said Mr Al Sudani was under great pressure from Shiite parties close to Iran seeking to end the US presence in Iraq and his recent statement was aimed at “appeasing” them.

It remains to be seen whether the announcement on Friday was mainly for internal purposes or if the newly announced committee will set in motion a process to end America's military presence in Iraq, a long-time goal of Iran and allied groups.

Updated: January 06, 2024, 6:48 AM