BAGHDAD (Dispatches) -- Several groups in Iraq on Tuesday reacted to an announcement by Washington that U.S. combat operations in the country will end this year, an outcome they have long demanded.
U.S. President Joe Biden declared on Monday that “we’re not going to be, at the end of the year, in a combat mission,” as he hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi for White House talks.
U.S. troops would continue to provide training and assistance to the Iraqi military, including also intelligence cooperation, falling short of demands for a full withdrawal.
However, Iraq’s al-Nujaba resistance movement called for a complete pullout of American forces from the country, saying the planned withdrawal must include the U.S. military’s “criminal” air force.
“We have no confidence whatsoever in Americans, and do not agree to their presence under any circumstances. We fiercely oppose the U.S. military presence, and demand a complete pullout of American forces,” Nasr al-Shammari, Nujaba’s spokesman, told Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen news network.
The U.S. currently has about 2,500 troops in Iraq. It is not known how many troops will stay in the country beyond 2021. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “the numbers will be driven by what is needed for the mission over time.”
Shammari said the withdrawal must also include the U.S. air force, which he said controls Iraq’s airspace and has been behind many of the American military’s crimes in the Arab state.
“The U.S. military’s crimes in Iraq, especially the assassination of military commanders General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi
al-Muhandis, were carried out by its air force,” he said.
A senior Hashd al-Sha’abi commander said the U.S. and the occupying regime of Israel have been behind “unrelenting attacks” on the resistance group, including Monday’s airstrikes in Najaf, urging the Iraqi government to “respond fittingly.”
Two drones targeted an ammunition warehouse belonging to the Iraqi resistance group in Najaf south of the capital Baghdad, according to a statement by the group.
The first strike was carried out at around 3:30 p.m. local time (1230 GMT), targeting the warehouse at a military base housing the paramilitary Imam Ali Division, the statement said.
The second attack on the same military base took place at around 5:30 pm local time (1430 GMT), the statement added, noting that the attacks followed a reconnaissance operation in the morning.
Saqir said the act of aggression was carried out “in violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He said Hashd al-Sha’abi units are an “integral part of Iraqi security forces” and attacks on their positions are tantamount to “attacks on Iraqi sovereignty.”
“The U.S. does not attach any importance to its statements, promises and agreements made with Iraq, whether in the security or non-security realm,” the official said. “Had the U.S. respected Iraq, this incident (in Najaf) would not have happened. The attacks on Hashd al-Sha’abi forces reveal the reality.”
Saqir called on the Iraqi government to respond appropriately to the U.S. and Zionist regime’s nonstop “destructive actions,” terming it “the last opportunity and test” for the government.
“The decision of the Iraqi people and the parliament to condemn and oppose the presence of U.S. troops on the Iraqi soil is very clear,” he said, invoking the parliamentary resolution last year that called for the ouster of foreign occupying forces, saying the decision “cannot be reversed.”
U.S. troops were deployed into Iraq in 2014 - three years after ending an eight-year occupation that began with the invasion to topple former President Saddam Hussein - purportedly to halt a sweeping advance by Daesh.
Iraq’s government declared Daesh defeated in late 2017, but the group retains sleeper cells and still launches periodic attacks.
On Saturday, a Hashd al-Sha’abi said thermal cameras in the central Salahuddin province have recorded U.S. military helicopters transferring Daesh terrorists to various locations across the country.
“The United States is not serious about withdrawing its troops from Iraq. The presence of U.S. forces shows that previous statements made by Iraqi authorities and their American counterparts are false and misleading,” Qassem al-Kuraiti told Al-Ahad television network.
Last week Daesh claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing at the Al-Woheilat market in Sadr City, a predominantly Shia area in Baghdad, that killed at least 30 people.
Shammari said the U.S. military offered no help to Iraq to prevent the rise of Daesh initially, or to defeat it later on.
“American forces did not warn against the Daesh militant group’s threats until after it captured more than a third of the Iraqi soil. Additionally, the troops did not provide any assistance to confront the terrorists.”
Shammari also said certain Iraqi factions want to promote themselves though foreign support and thus seek a prolongation of the U.S. military presence in the country.
“Who can guarantee that American forces in Iraq will not be reinforced under the title of advisors?” he asked.
Since last year, Washington says, the principle role of the remaining U.S. troops after withdrawals under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had already been to train, advise and support the Iraqi military. Biden’s announcement therefore indicated little major change of policy.
The face-to-face meeting in the Oval Office was to give political cover to Kadhimi, in power for little over a year and under intensifying pressure over the continued U.S. presence, analysts said.
Prominent Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said, “We are waiting for a complete withdrawal of American troops.”
Sadr praised the role of Iraqi resistance fighters in speeding up the American pullout in a post published on his Twitter page, and wrote, “The occupiers finally announced the start of the withdrawal of all their combat forces.”
“We are waiting, just as you are, for the complete pullout of the occupying forces,” he said in an address to resistance groups, while appreciating “efforts aimed at striking this agreement, especially those made by brother al-Kadhimi.”
“We have already announced our conditions, and the military operations of resistance forces will stop completely once they are met. We must work to support Iraqi armed forces, including the army and law enforcement, so they can secure Iraqi territories and protect the country against terrorism, violence and proxies.”
Parliament speaker Muhammad al-Halboosi stated that his country is moving confidently towards the full realization of its capabilities.
He described the agreement as a diplomatic and political achievement in line with Iraq’s national interests, establishment of full sovereignty and the creation of a capable Iraq.