BAGHDAD (Dispatches) -- An array of Iraqi militia groups has asked Iraq’s government to present a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, one of the groups said on Sunday.
A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, one of the most powerful anti-terror groups in Iraq, said they were presenting no set deadline, but that if U.S. troops "insisted on staying” they would unleash attacks.
Washington, which is slowly reducing its 5,000 troops in Iraq, threatened last month to shut its embassy unless the Iraqi government reins in anti-terror militias that have been vital to defeating Daesh and protecting the country from threats.
The U.S. announcement was interpreted by some Iraqis as a step towards airstrikes, potentially turning Iraq into a new battleground, while others said it was a bluff to browbeat the country into submission.
"The factions have presented a conditional ceasefire,” Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Muhammad Mohi told Reuters. "It includes all factions of the (anti-U.S.) resistance, including those who have been targeting U.S. forces.”
On Saturday, militia groups calling themselves the "Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission” published a statement suggesting they would suspend attacks in return for a clear plan for U.S. troops to leave. Mohi did not specify which groups had drafted the statement.
He said the Iraqi government must implement a parliamentary resolution in January calling for foreign troops to withdraw.
Iraqis are still reeling from U.S. assassination of the Middle East’s legendary anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad airport in January.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi leader of anti-terror militias, was also martyred. Factions that Gen. Soleimani and Muhandis commanded, including Kataib Hezbollah, swore to avenge them.
Mohi said there was no deadline for the government to expel foreign troops, but "if America insists on staying and doesn’t respect the parliament’s decision then the factions will use all the weapons at their disposal”.
He said rockets fired at U.S. forces and diplomatic compounds were a message, and worse attacks could follow.
U.S. officials blame Kataib Hezbollah for dozens of rocket attacks against U.S. installations in Iraq. Kataib Hezbollah denies involvement, and some attacks have been claimed by smaller, little-known and murky militias.
The groups said the "conditional opportunity” was created "to respect the good efforts made by some national and political figures to draw up a clear and specific timetable for the implementation of the decision of the Iraqi people, parliament, and government on withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq”.
Washington has so far refused to withdraw its troops, with President Donald Trump balking
at the idea with the threat to seize Iraq’s oil money held in bank accounts in the U.S.
A roadside blast hit a convoy in southern Iraq on Sunday delivering equipment to the U.S.-led military coalition in the country, damaging a tire but causing no casualties, the military said. There was no claim of responsibility.
Kataib Hezbollah is an anti-U.S. unit operating under the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as Hashd al-Sha’abi, which includes more than 40 militia groups fighting takfiri terrorism.