Middle East

Abadi: No U.S. combat troops after Daesh

The Iraqi forces’ new foothold aims to open escape routes for the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped behind Daesh lines.

BAGHDAD: U.S. combat troops will not stay on in Iraq after the fight against Daesh (ISIS) is over, Iraq’s prime minister said Friday – a statement that followed an Associated Press report on talks between Iraq and the United States on maintaining American forces in the country.

A U.S. official and an official from the Iraqi government told the AP this week that talks about keeping U.S. troops in Iraq were ongoing.

The U.S. official emphasized that discussions were in early stages and that “nothing has been finalized.” Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

In his statement, Haider al-Abadi emphasized that there are no foreign combat troops on Iraqi soil and that any American troops who stay on once Daesh militants are defeated will be advisers working to train Iraq’s security forces to maintain “full readiness” for any “future security challenges.”

While some U.S. forces are carrying out combat operations with Iraqi forces on and beyond front lines in the fight against Daesh, Abadi has maintained that the forces are acting only as advisers, apparently to get around a required parliamentary approval for their presence.

Currently, the Pentagon has close to 7,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, many not publicly acknowledged.

On the ground, Iraqi forces pushed further into Mosul from the north on the second day of a new push to speed up the nearly seven-month attempt to dislodge Daesh, commanders said Friday.

Daesh tried to block the troops’ northerly advance into their de facto Iraqi capital with suicide car bombs and sniper fire, Brig. Gen. Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the 9th brigade, told Reuters in Hulayla, west of Musherfa. His troops had killed about 30 militants, and destroyed five car bombs before they could be used against them, he said.

U.S. air support has proved vital for spotting suicide car bombs and for avoiding targets where civilians are trapped.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for the joint operations command, told Reuters the militants “didn’t have time to make barriers, the advance since yesterday has been good.” An army statement said the Second Musherfa district as well as the church and Mikhail’s Monastery area had been retaken.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi forces’ new foothold aims to open escape routes for the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped behind Daesh lines and, in turn, help troops’ progress.

Rasool said Iraqi forces rescued 1,000 families Thursday.

Footage taken by a drone operated by the Iraqi 9th Armored Division over the northwestern suburb of Musherfa and seen by Reuters, showed the militants had scant defenses there, unlike in other parts of Mosul where streets are blocked by anti-tank barriers and vehicles.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Browning, the partnered adviser to the 9th, said the militants had tried to keep some streets open in order to use suicide car bombs. Daesh was probably expecting the attack, he said, “but they can’t defend everywhere.”

Only two months ago, the militants would be firing 200 rockets or mortars at Iraqi forces in Mosul on any given day, Browning said, but in the past two days it dropped to about 30. “When you open up more fronts it becomes harder for [Daesh] to be able to defend. There are certainly some challenges. There are defenses in place,” he told Reuters.

The 9th Armored Division and the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response units are aiming for the Tigris River bank to complete their encirclement of the Daesh-held Old City center. Their progression should help the elite Counter Terrorism Service and Interior Ministry Federal Police troops who are painstakingly advancing from the south. The militants are now besieged in the northwestern corner of Mosul.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 06, 2017, on page 8.

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