U.S. President Donald Trump's surprise December 26, 2018 visit to the 'Ayn Al-Assad Airbase in Al-Anbar Governorate in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, sparked furious reactions in Iraq and even threats from Iran-backed Iraqi Shi'ite militias to use force against U.S. troops in the country. The rage against the U.S. was particularly fueled by Trump's announcement during his visit that the U.S. had no intention to withdraw its forces from Iraq and that it has the capability to operate in Syria from its bases there, as well as by reports prior to the visit that the U.S. military had established two new bases in Al-Anbar.
In addition, photos published January 5, 2019, showing U.S. Marine Brig.-Gen. Austin E. Renforth, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, strolling through downtown Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Lt.-Gen Jalil Jabbar Al-Rubaie, commander of the Baghdad Operations Center, also provoked extensive criticism in the country, prompting claims that this constituted a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
Sabah Al-Sa'di, head of Iraq's Reform and Reconstruction parliamentary bloc that is part of Muqtada Al-Sadr's faction, said: "The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria is no excuse or justification for leaving them in Iraq and turning [this country] into one of [the U.S.'s] bases in the Middle East." Faleh Al Khaz'ali, a pro-Iran MP from the Basra region, said: "The American commanders who were defeated in Iraq want to return [here] on any pretext, but we will not allow this under any circumstances... Trump's visit to the U.S. troops in Iraq proves that these troops are not advisory and training forces, and the [Iraqi] government must take responsibility [and see to their removal]." Iraqi Prime Minister 'Adel 'Abd Al-Mahdi clarified that the U.S. has no military bases in Iraq.
At the same time, as noted, several Iran-backed Iraqi Shi'ite militias, all of them designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S., have threatened to expel the U.S. forces from Iraq if they do not withdraw on their own, and said that Trump's violation of Iraqi sovereignty "will not go unpunished." A few hours after the conclusion of Trump's visit, two shells fell near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Likewise, on January 8, 2019, a spokesman for the Arab factions in Nineveh reported that he had information about a plan by these militias to attack U.S. forces in Iraq. It should be noted that this is not the first time that senior officials in these militias have threatened to use force against the U.S. presence in the country.
Hizbullah-Iraq militants (Source: Alhadath.net, June 26, 2018)
This report will review the threats against the U.S. by the Iran-backed Iraqi Shi'ite militias.
Al-Nujaba: If The U.S. Does Not Withdraw From Iraq, We Will Use Weapons Against It
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi, spokesman for the Al-Nujaba militia, which is part of Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi (the Popular Mobilization Units, PMU), criticized the U.S. for what he called its insult to Iraqi sovereignty: "That idiot Trump must realize that Iraq's sovereignty was achieved with blood, and that no [American] bases will be built in the land of resistance and martyrs...The [Iraqi] government is obligated now to drive out the American forces that harm the country's sovereignty... Trump wants to restrict Iraq's sovereignty at 'Ayn Al-Assad Airbase, but this will not happen, no matter what price we must pay... We will not allow Iraq to become a base for threatening the countries of the region... Trump's denigration of Iraq's sovereignty will not go unpunished."
In other statements, Al-Musawi threatened to carry out military operations against U.S. forces: "If the American side refuses to withdraw, Al-Nujaba's reaction will be the rifle. As we fought for Iraqi sovereignty and to preserve the political process, so shall we attack the foreign forces if they establish an occupation and refuse to withdraw."
Asaib Ahl Al-Haq: We Have The Capability To Drive Out The U.S. By "Means That Are Known To Your Forces"
Qais Al-Khaz'ali, secretary-general of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia, which is also part of Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi, tweeted: "Trump's visit to the American military base without honoring diplomatic norms exposed the truth about the American plans in Iraq. [Mr. Trump], the Iraqis' response [to you] will be by means of a parliamentary decision to drive out your military forces, whether you want it or not. If they won't leave, we have the knowhow and capability to expel them by other means that are known to your forces, which were forced to leave in humiliation in 2011."
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Similar threats were voiced by militia spokesman Jawad Al-Talibawy several days later, when he expressed his fury at U.S. Marine Brig.-Gen. Renforth's and Lt.-Gen Jalil Jabbar Al-Rubaie's January 5 Baghdad stroll. Calling it "a gross breach of Iraqi sovereignty" and a blow to the Iraqi people who oppose the presence of foreign forces on their territory, Al-Talibawy added: "We are closely following the illegal presence, deployment, and movements of U.S. Army soldiers in several Iraqi districts... The [Iraqi] people leave it to the prime minister and the parliament to take the appropriate stand on behalf of the people who [support] resistance and oppose every type of foreign hegemony... [However,] if Iraqi diplomacy doesn’t succeed, then the Iraqi people, who have their fingers on the triggers [of the guns] of victory and who bear aloft the flag of freedom and security, are fully at the ready to stand aggressively against the direct and indirect American presence and the American occupation of parts of Iraq, and to bring to an end the movements of [the U.S.] soldiers in the districts of Iraq."
Hizbullah-Iraq: Force "Is The Only Language The Americans Understand"
Ja'far Al-Husseini, military spokesman for the Iran-backed Hizbullah-Iraq, warned during an interview with Al-Mayadeen TV, which is identified with Hizbullah in Lebanon: "The resistance will force the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Iraq." On another occasion, he said: "We are serious about [launching] an operation to drive out the Americans by force of arms, because this is the only language the Americans understand."
Spokesman For The Arab Factions in Nineveh: Shi'ite Militias Are Poised To Attack The American Bases
In addition to the threats from the Shi'ite militias, an Iraqi element that opposes them also reported on the factions' intention to attack U.S. forces. On January 8, 2019, Sheikh Mzahem Al-Hweit, spokesman for the Arab factions in Nineveh who is close to former Iraqi Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani, told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily that he had in his possession accurate information that Shi'ite militias associated with Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi "are poised to fight the American forces, with Iranian support and funding." He said that these militias "intend to establish a trained military force that will operate secretly to attack the American forces in military bases across Iraq." Al-Hweit also noted that "the militias have opened offices for this purpose inside their headquarters on the Nineveh and Kirkuk plain, named The National Revolutionary Faction Against the American Occupation," and that they are overseen by the Badr Shi'ite Militia and the Al-Nujaba Militia in Kirkuk. He added that the Arab factions had informed the Americans about this.
 Washingtonpost.com, December 26, 2018.
 Aa.com.tr, December 25, 2018.
 Alarabiya.net, January 5, 2019.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 27, 2018.
 Alnujaba.com, December 27, 2018.
 Alarabiya.net, December 31, 2018.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 27, 2018.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7324, Shi'ite Militias In Iraq: If The U.S. Doesn't Withdraw Its Forces From Iraq, We Will Take Military Measures Against Them, February 9, 2018.
 Ar.farsnews.com, December 27, 2018.
 Alwaght.com, December 30, 2018.
 @Alkhazali, December 26, 2018.
 Newsaliraq.com, January 7, 2019.
 Almayadeen.net, December 26, 2018.
 Alwaght.com, December 30, 2018.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 8, 2019.