Middle East

Iraq MPs want timeline for foreign troop exit

U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division fire artillery in support of Iraqi forces fighting Daesh militants from their base east of Mosul, April 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Parliament demanded Thursday that the government set a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops stationed in the country to help fight Daesh (ISIS), a ruling coalition lawmaker said.

A U.S.-led coalition was formed in 2014 and with thousands of troops and air support helped Iraqi security forces and a Kurdish-led Syrian militia roll back Daesh across large swaths of Iraq and Syria and destroy the cross-border “caliphate” set up by the militants.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over Daesh in December.

Daesh has since reverted to a guerrilla-style insurgency and continues to carry out attacks on select targets.

The Iraqi Parliament’s demand underscores the balancing act Abadi must conduct between the U.S. and Iran, his two biggest military allies who are themselves archadversaries.

There are no Iranian regular forces in Iraq but there is the Iranian-backed Shiite militia, Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, which is allied with Abadi’s government.

“Parliament voted for a decision to thank friendly nations for their support in defeating Daesh and at the same time to demand the government set a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops,” lawmaker Husham al-Suhail told Reuters.

“It is up to the government to decide how long we need them here – one year, two years, it’s up to them.”

Thursday’s vote, which was backed by all but a handful of the 177 lawmakers present, was sponsored by lawmakers from the ruling Shiite bloc in Parliament.

“The timing of the vote, right before the election, is a message from pro-Iran parties that they do not want American troops in Iraq forever,” political analyst Ahmed Younes said. “They are achieving two things – pressure on Abadi’s government to expel foreign troops, as well as scoring political points before the election.” Abadi is seeking a second term in parliamentary elections scheduled for May.

A spokesman for the coalition told Reuters that the presence of its troops hinged on the approval of the Iraqi government.

“Our continued presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to need, in coordination with and by the approval of the Iraqi government,” U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon said.

The coalition says it has begun a transition from focusing on retaking territory to consolidating gains.

It has trained 125,000 members of the Iraqi security forces, 22,000 of which were regional Kurdish peshmerga fighters, and helped retake almost a third of Iraq from Daesh through air and logistical support.

The coalition has drawn criticism, however, for the number of civilian casualties resulting from airstrikes. At least 841 civilians were killed this way as of January 2018.

It says it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

Abadi said Tuesday coalition force numbers were “very limited” and stressed it was “out of the question to give them a base on our territory.”

“There is no base or airport controlled by foreign forces. ... No aircraft lands or takes off without our authorization,” the Iraqi prime minister told a news conference.

In October, Abadi strongly defended Al-Hashd al-Shaabi after comments from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that foreign fighters and Iranian militias in Iraq should “go home.”

The Iraqi prime minister said that they were Iraqi volunteer fighters who had played a major role in the military defeat of Daesh.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 02, 2018, on page 9.

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