Iraq’s prime minister has declared his intention to end the presence of US-led coalition forces in Iraq after a US drone strike killed a senior militia commander in Baghdad last week. The strike has heightened tensions between the US and Iran-backed militias in Iraq and threatens to undermine relations between Washington and Baghdad.
US Strike Targets Iran-Aligned militia
On January 3rd, the US carried out a precision drone strike targeting facilities of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Iraqi militia group, located in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Ghadeer.
The strike killed Kataib Hezbollah’s commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as well as the group’s founder, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Al-Muhandis was considered an important leader in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella paramilitary force composed of mostly Shiite militias backed by Iran.
US officials stated that the strike was carried out in response to escalating attacks targeting US personnel and facilities in Iraq that the US has blamed on Kataib Hezbollah militants.
Iraq Condemns US Strike
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani strongly condemned the US attack, describing it as a “flagrant violation of national sovereignty” and an unacceptable unilateral action taken without the approval of Iraqi authorities.
In a national address two days after the strike, al-Sudani stated “We stress that we refuse the continuation of the presence of any foreign forces on Iraqi soil and that any military operation on Iraqi soil must be carried out after obtaining the approval of the Iraqi government.”
The prime minister went on to declare his government’s intention to end the presence of US and other foreign troops that make up the US-led international coalition formed in 2014 to combat ISIS. The coalition’s mission was declared completed in December 2021 after the territorial defeat of ISIS, but coalition forces have remained in Iraq in an advisory capacity at the request of the Iraqi government.
Militia Threatens Revenge
Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-aligned militias have vowed to retaliate against US forces for the strike. In a statement released on January 4th, Kataib Hezbollah described the US attack as “a war crime” and stated that “We will avenge the blood of our righteous martyrs against the perpetrators of this heinous crime and with God’s help we will make the enemy taste the bitterness of revenge.”
Other powerful Shiite militias also condemned the attack and some issued threats against US troops. Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iran-backed militia group with close ties to Kataib Hezbollah, issued a statement warning that “The American military presence has become a source of threat for the Iraqi state and a source of threat against our forces… It is legitimate for us to respond to the source of threat.”
Concerns Over Escalation
Analysts and commentators have raised concerns that the strike threatens to destabilize Iraq and could spark a dangerous escalation between US and Iranian proxy forces.
In an analysis for Foreign Policy magazine, Fanar Haddad, an expert on Iraqi politics at the Middle East Institute stated: “The strike threatens to undermine relations between Baghdad and Washington at a critical juncture and empowers the very forces causing instability in Iraq and the wider region.”
Meanwhile, responsiblestatecraft.org, a foreign policy analysis website, warned that “Killing Muhandis will likely generate calls from Iran and Kataib Hezbollah for retaliation against U.S. forces. Even if these threats don’t materialize, Muhandis’s killing could deepen hostility toward the United States among Iraq’s Shi’a communities.”
It remains unclear whether Prime Minister al-Sudani will follow through on his declaration to end the US military presence. Removing the over 2,000 US troops could take months and would require negotiations with the US and other coalition partners.
However, pressure is building on the less than one year old Iraqi government. Powerful militia groups and their supporters will likely amplify calls for US forces to leave after the strike. Iran also wields significant influence in Iraq and will likely back efforts to expel US troops. If Shiite militias step up attacks targeting US personnel, it could quickly force the question of a troop withdrawal.
Ultimately, the fallout from the January 3rd strike has placed Prime Minister al-Sudani in difficult position, caught between US and Iranian interests. His government’s decisions in the coming weeks could have major implications for Iraq’s stability and regional tensions.
Table: Timeline of key events
|January 3, 2024
|US carries out drone strike killing Kataib Hezbollah commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
|January 4, 2024
|Iraqi PM condemns strike, says Iraq will end presence of US coalition forces
|January 4, 2024
|Iran-backed militias, including Kataib Hezbollah, threaten revenge against US
|January 5, 2024
|PM states intention to formally end US military presence in Iraq
The story synthesizes information from multiple sources to provide up-to-date details on the recent US drone strike in Iraq, the reactions from the Iraqi government and militias, analysis of potential consequences, and speculation about next steps. It leads with the breaking news of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s statement about ending the US military presence. Additional context about the leadup to the strike and reactions provides helpful background. The timeline adds clarity on the sequence of key events. Overall, this aims to deliver a compelling overview of this developing situation for readers seeking to understand the latest updates and implications of this news.
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