Iraqi militias say they have stopped anti-US attacks
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An array of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have suspended rocket attacks against US forces on condition that the Iraqi government presents a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, one of the groups said on Sunday .
A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, one of the most powerful Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, said the groups did not present a deadline, but that if US troops “insisted on staying,” they would trigger much more violent attacks.
Washington, which is slowly reducing its 5,000 troops in Iraq, threatened last month to close its embassy unless the Iraqi government curbs Iran-aligned militias that have attacked US interests with rockets and border bombs. of road.
The US warning alarmed Iraq, where it was seen as a step towards airstrikes, potentially turning Iraq into a battleground in a proxy war between the US and Iran. A wide range of politicians have called on the militias to stop provoking Americans.
“The factions have presented a conditional ceasefire,” Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohi told Reuters. “This includes all (anti-American) resistance factions, including those that have targeted American forces. “
On Saturday, militia groups calling themselves the “Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission” issued a statement suggesting that they would suspend the attacks in exchange for a clear plan for the departure of US troops. Mohi did not specify which groups drafted the statement.
He said the Iraqi government must implement a parliamentary resolution in January calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Iraq is one of the few countries with close ties to the United States and Iran, both of which have provided military support to help defeat Islamic State fighters, who have been pushed back into a three-year war after taking a third of Iraq in 2014.
Iraqis have long feared their country could become a proxy battleground, especially since Washington killed Tehran’s military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad airport in January.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi leader of pro-Iranian militias, was also killed. The factions Soleimani and Muhandis commanded, including Kataib Hezbollah, vowed to avenge them.
But pro-Iran militias have faced a popular backlash from the Iraqis who accuse them of endangering the country’s security by attacking the Americans.
Mohi said there was no deadline for the government to expel foreign troops, but “if America insists on staying and does not respect parliament’s decision, then the factions will use all weapons at their disposal. disposition “.
He said rockets fired at US forces and diplomatic complexes were a message and worse attacks could follow.
US officials accuse Kataib Hezbollah of being responsible for dozens of rocket attacks against US facilities in Iraq.
Kataib Hezbollah denies any involvement and some attacks have been claimed by smaller and little-known militias, although Iraqi officials believe they may be fronts for larger groups.
A roadside explosion hit a convoy in southern Iraq delivering supplies to the US-led coalition in the country on Sunday, damaging a tire but causing no casualties, the military said. There was no claim of responsibility.
Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Ahmed Rasheed, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Peter Graff