Iraqi PM warns US and Iran against further escalations inside the country

White House has vowed to 'respond' to Saturday’s ballistic missile attack on US troops by Tehran-backed Shiite militias

Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani called for US troops to leave Iraq during his appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. AP Photo
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani renewed on Monday his objection to any escalations in Iraq, a day after the US vowed retaliation for a weekend attack on an Iraqi airbase which hosts US troops.

Tehran-backed militias fired ballistic missiles into Ain Al Asad base in western Iraq, wounding several American personnel and an Iraqi soldier, for the first time in more than three months.

The attacks, they say, are to impose a cost on the US for its support of Israel against the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, and to force their withdrawal from Iraq.

During a meeting with the Netherlands' Minister of Defence, Kajsa Ollongren, on Monday, Mr Al Sudani stressed his objection to "any aggression on Iraqi territory or threatening its sovereignty,” according to a statement from his office.

However, Iraqi officials expect further escalation.

“Using the ballistic missiles is a dangerous escalation,” a security official with the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence told The National. "They are trying to change the rules for engagement," he said.

“The militia groups behind these attacks are showing no signs of abating, they are striking a defiant tone, introducing new weaponries and reaching new targets inside Israel,” he said.

The militant groups have been launching almost daily attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria since the start of the Israel-Gaza war in October, but they have been limited to explosives-laden drones and short-range rockets.

The White House said on Sunday that it is taking Saturday’s attack seriously.

"It was a very serious attack, using a capability of ballistic missiles that posed a genuine threat," White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said.

During an earlier interview with US news channel ABC this week, Mr Finer warned that the US is "going to respond ... to establish deterrence in these situations, and to hold these groups accountable that continue to attack us".

"You can be assured that we are taking this extremely seriously," he added.

Most of the projectiles fired at the base were intercepted by air defence systems but some hit the base, Mr Finer and the Pentagon said. The US didn't give a specific number of wounded troops or their injuries.

Most of the attacks, including Saturday's attack, have been claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-linked armed groups that oppose US support for Israel in the Gaza conflict.

In recent weeks, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, claimed missile and drone attacks in the occupied Golan Heights and Elad settlement in Israel.

Powerful militias Kata’ib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah Al Nujaba and Kataib Sayyid Al Shuhada are the backbone of this group.

On Sunday, former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, a prominent leader in the Co-ordination Framework which consists of Iran-backed militias, met with the US Ambassador to Baghdad and called for “swift action to alleviate tension and to end the exchange of attacks that could lead to widening the war”.

“Both the Americans and militias, are not listening to the government calls for calm,” a government official told The National.

“With the war in Gaza continuing and Iran’s role getting bigger and bigger day after day in the region, especially after the assassination of its senior security officials in Syria, we expect more escalation,” he said.

Mr Al Sudani has announced moves to redraw relations with the US-led International Coalition formed in 2014 to fight ISIS, with the eventual goal of the withdrawal of US troops from the country.

The Pentagon said it has not been formally notified of any plans to end the US troop presence in the country and says its forces are deployed to Iraq at the invitation of the government in Baghdad.

The US has 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq on a mission to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of ISIS, which in 2014 seized large parts of both countries before it was eventually defeated.

Updated: January 22, 2024, 2:47 PM