Iraq’s prime minister is calling to end the American military presence in his country, following an airstrike in Baghdad that killed a leader of the Harakat-al-Nujaba militia, one of the militias that make up the Popular Military Forces. The announcement by al-Sudani could impact the more than 2,000 American service members in Iraq as well as allied coalition troops.
The strike on Thursday, Jan. 4 killed Mushtaq Jawad Kazim al-Jawari, also known as Abu-Taqwaa, a leader of the Harakat-al-Nujaba militia. Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said on Friday, Jan. 5 that his government is starting the process to end the American military presence in Iraq.
“We are in the process of setting the date for the start of the dialogue through the bilateral committee that was formed to determine the arrangements for the end of this presence, and it is a commitment that the government will not back down from, and will not neglect anything that would complete national sovereignty over the land, sky, and waters of Iraq,” al-Sudani said in a statement released by his office.
Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Penatgon’s press secretary, said on Thursday that al-Jawari was “actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel,” referring to the series of attacks on American troops in the last three months. Ryder referred to the operation as a “self-defense strike.”
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Iraq meanwhile has criticized the strike. Even before al-Sudani’s comments, an Iraqi military spokesperson declared the Baghdad attack as an “unprovoked attack on an Iraqi security body.”
When asked for comment about al-Sudani’s comments, the Department of Defense directed questions to the State Department. The State Department in turn directed questions to the Department of Defense.
Ryder said in a statement to Task & Purpose “Iraq is an important and valued partner. Our forces are there at the invitation of the government of Iraq to help train and advise, in support of the Defeat-ISIS mission.”
“And so, as we have been doing all along, we will continue to consult closely with the Iraqi government about the safety and security of U.S. forces,” his statement continued. “In the meantime, U.S. forces continue to remain focused on the Defeat-ISIS mission.”
Ryder’s comments are essentially the same as what he said on Thursday, Jan. 4, before al-Sudani’s comments, calling Iraq “an essential and valued partner” at a briefing.
The PMF is the term used for several dozen militias operating together. Several of the member militias are Shia, although not all are. Many are also directly linked to the Iranian government; Harakat-al-Nujaba is one such militia. In 2019 the U.S. designated it a terrorist organization. The PMF were essentially legitimized by the Iraqi state as part of the wider Iraqi fight against ISIS. In 2016 the Iraqi parliament. However the groups remain organized in their own individual nature, rather than falling into the formal Iraqi army. In 2016, following that law, then-head of Operation Inherent Resolve Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said that the PMF could be a useful group for Iraqi security as long as they did not become an Iranian proxy.
U.S. air strikes have targeted members of the PMF in the past — in one instance the deputy chief of the PMF was killed in the same strike that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani, something al-Sudani cited in his statement — although the Baghdad strike this past week has drawn the sharpest response from the Iraqi government. It’s also a reversal of al-Sudani’s statements a year ago. In January 2023 the prime minister declined to give a timeline for U.S. withdrawal and said American forces were still needed for training Iraqi troops.
The U.S. has approximately 2,500 troops inside Iraq. After the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011, American troops returned in 2014 with coalition partners to fight ISIS. Although the terrorist group has been pushed out of its strongholds, it remains active in the region and the U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out several raids around the Middle East, in part using bases and facilities in Iraq as staging areas.
Since the start of the war in Gaza following the terrorist attack on Israel in Oct. 7 multiple attacks have been launched on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, leaving dozens injured. In addition, Houthi rebels in Yemen have targeted commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea, with U.S. Navy vessels shooting down several drones and missiles over the water.
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