Iraqi militia leader warns US of "earth-shaking" response after not withdrawing from country

Iraq’s Moqtada Al Sadr calls on militias to stand down

Qais al-Khazali (C) commander of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq pro-Iran faction attends the funeral procession of slain Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and eight others at the Imam Ali Shrine in the shrine city of Najaf in central Iraq on January 4, 2020. Thousands of Iraqis chanted "Death to America" today as they mourned the deaths of  al-Muhandis and Soleimani, who were killed in a US drone attack that sparked fears of a regional proxy war between Washington and Tehran. / AFP / Haidar HAMDANI
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A leading militia commander in Iraq, Qais Al Khazali, warned Washington on Thursday of an “earth-shaking response” for not withdrawing its troops from Iraq and denied involvement in strikes

Two Katyusha rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone on Wednesday night amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran following the US killing of Iran’s powerful general Qassem Suleimani last week.

The heavily fortified zone is home to government and diplomatic buildings.

Mr Al Khazali, leader of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia, denied responsibility and said his group will not target any diplomatic mission- particularly American- with their revenge.

But Mr Al Kazali, who is one of Iran’s main allies in Iraq, warned Washington of a deadly response for not re-deploying its troops out of the country.

“We say it again to you Americans for your refusal to withdraw from Iraq, expect an earth-shaking response,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

His statement follows follows Iraq's parliamentary vote last Sunday to expel foreign troops from the country.

It was an apparent bid by the government to keep the country away from an escalating US-Iran proxy war.

The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), also known as Hashed Al Shaabi, also denied their involvement in the strikes.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran launched 22 ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases hosting American and other foreign troops in response to Suleimani’s death.

Mr Al Khazali said on Wednesday that it was time for the country to follow Iran’s example and avenge the US airstrike.

The US drone strike also killed Suleimani’s top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, the deputy chief of the country's paramilitary forces known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces or Hashed Al Shaabi.

Several militia leaders said they would “take their own steps” to avenge the death of Muhandis.

The PMF’s political arm, the Fatah bloc, rallied anti-American sentiment in parliament to push through a resolution calling for the exit of foreign troops from Iraq.

It comes as Iraq’s populist cleric Muqtada Al Sadr late Wednesday called on Shiite militias to stand down as US-Iran tit-for-tat military action intensifies in the country.

But Mr Al Sadr, whose Mahdi Army led a resistance movement against US troops following the American invasion of 2003, called for “resistance and patience”.

He stressed that militias must "not start military action."

The influential cleric said the crisis that Iraq is experiencing is "over".

Although he expressed support for ousting foreign troops, he also stressed that the country must be “patient and use political, parliamentary and international methods” to accomplish this.

Iraqi militias should not start military action, Mr Al Sadr said on Twitter, and should refrain from extreme rhetoric.

The cleric, who leads the largest bloc in parliament, asked politicians to form a “strong” government within the next 15 days.

“The government should be able to protect the nation’s sovereignty and independence,” he said.

Mr Al Sadr has long been an advocate of Iraqi independence from Iran and US and for the country to not be a theater for proxy wars.

US President Donald Trump pulled back from the brink of war with Iran on Wednesday, saying that Tehran appeared to be "standing down" after launching missiles at US troops.

Mr Trump reinforced his administration's tough policies towards Iran and announced new sanctions on Tehran.

Washington did necessarily have to hit back after Iran's attack in Iraq, the act itself was a retaliation for the targeted killing of Suleimani, Mr Trump said.