print
memri
March 6, 2019 No.
7929

Legislative Efforts To Expel U.S. Troops From Iraq, Alongside Shi'ite Militias' Threats To Force Them Out

Introduction

In recent weeks, political and military pro-Iran elements in Iraq have continued to threaten to expel the U.S. forces from the country.[1] These threats increased following reports that the U.S. seeks to dismantle 67 militias that are members of Hashd Al-Sha'bi (the Popular Mobilization Units, PMU) – a report denied by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abd Al-Mahdi[2] – and come against the backdrop of U.S. President Donald Trump's February 3, 2019 announcement that he is interested in maintaining an American military presence in Iraq because, as he put it, "I want to be able to watch Iran."[3]

Pro-Iran Iraqi elements – both those in the Iraqi parliament and those in the PMU, called on Prime Minister Al-Mahdi to divulge the deployment and location of U.S. forces in Iraq.

At the same time, pro-Iran Shi'ite members of parliament are working on legislation to expel foreign forces from Iraq, first and foremost U.S. forces – and the bill is expected to be voted on this month. [4] PMU Shi'ite militias that the U.S. has designated as Foreign Terror Organizations have threatened that, once the law is passed, they will not hesitate to act to implement it, including by force if necessary.

At the same time, it should be noted that Sunni and Kurdish political blocs support the U.S. forces remaining in Iraq, on the grounds that the security situation in the country remains unstable. One of the most prominent supporters of this position is parliamentary speaker Muhammad Al-Halbousi.[5]

Earlier, during his December 26, 2018 visit to the 'Ain Al-Assad base in Iraq, in the context of the decision to withdraw the U.S. forces from Syria, Trump said that the troops would stay in Iraq and would be able to use it as a base for operations in Syria.[6] 

In addition, these militias have threatened a harsh response should U.S. troops make a move against the PMU or against Iran from Iraqi soil.  To sharpen their threats, the militias' spokesmen have stressed on more than one occasion that they have precise information as to the U.S. troops' location, dispersal and activity, but, unlike in the past, clarified that they would not be the ones to initiate a confrontation. On March 2, 2019, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Lebanese Hizbullah, published coordinates of what it stated were two new U.S. bases in the Al-Anbar region in the Iraq-Syria-Jordan triangle border area, with accompanying aerial photographs.

It is noteworthy that, in recent weeks, the PMU forces claimed that they had responded to "provocations" by U.S. forces on patrol in the area. They reportedly stopped U.S. forces from patrolling in the Nineveh region,[7] and prevented other U.S. forces from setting up a "suspicious" observation post to monitor PMU forces on the Iraq-Syria border.[8] These reports, if true, could indicate an attempt by pro-Iran forces to test the waters of possible American reactions to their moves. 

https://vid.alarabiya.net/images/2019/01/23/5c176bc5-bb54-443c-9461-01960bc1c71e/5c176bc5-bb54-443c-9461-01960bc1c71e.jpg?format=jpeg&width=960
U.S.
forces in Iraq (Source: Alarabiya.net, January 23, 2019)

This report reviews statements by Iraqi elements about Iraqi legislation to expel foreign forces from the country, and threats against U.S. forces by pro-Iran Shi'ite militias in Iraq.

Shi'ite Parties: The Law Will Designate The Americans As Occupiers;  PMU: We Will Implement The Law By Force

As noted, in recent weeks members of pro-Iran Shi'ite parties in Iraq have been working to draw up a bill to expel foreign forces from the country – first and foremost the U.S. forces. The bill, if passed, will define their presence as occupation and protect Iraqi sovereignty. On January 18, 2019, Mansour Al-Baiji, an MP from Iraq's Al-Bina Alliance, called the bill very important, adding: "There is a consensus [that] this law should be approved without delay, to block all those attempting to violate Iraqi sovereignty... We can defend our country with the PMU forces and the Iraqi army, and we won't allow any foreign soldier, under any name, to remain [in Iraq]."[9]

On February 1, 2019, MP Badr Al-Zaidi of Muqtada al-Sadr's Alliance Towards Reforms Party, member of the Parliament Security and Defense Committee, said that "the draft [law] to expel foreign forces, first and foremost the American forces" was complete, and that efforts were ongoing to cancel the strategic Baghdad-Washington agreement approved in 2008.[10]  He also said that, "The vote on the draft [law] to expel foreign forces will be one of the items heading the agenda of the second session of parliament [which opens in March]... After it is voted on [and passed], parliament will consider the U.S. forces to be occupiers." He added that the committee has information about all U.S. troop movements in Iraq.[11]

Explaining the need for the law, MP Hassan Salam of the Al-Sadiqoun faction said: "The U.S. forces are carrying out grave provocations... They patrol some of the districts with their vehicles and troops, [flaunting their presence] "[12]

In tandem with the efforts to draw up a parliamentary bill, some PMU elements said they would not hesitate to enforce the law, even by force, once it is approved.

Sheikh Qais Al-Khaz'ali, secretary-general of the Asa'eb Ahl Al-Haq militia, said: "The Iraqi military and security forces will be able to implement the decision to expel the foreign forces, should a foreign force seek to impose its military presence against the will of the [Iraqi] people... The American presence does not serve the interests of Iraq in any way, and is aimed at utilizing Iraq as a platform for launching attacks against neighboring countries [i.e., Syria]. This is a very serious matter, since the Iraqi constitution expressly prohibits this."[13]

Similar sentiments were voiced by Muhammad Muhyi, spokesman of the Kata'eb Hizbullah Iraq militia, who said: "All foreign forces on Iraqi soil, including the American military forces, will be considered occupying forces and invaders under the Iraqi constitution, following the parliamentary vote on the proposed draft law to expel them from Iraq... [Once the law is approved,] they will be in confrontation with the Iraqi people and the factions of the Islamic resistance... Keeping U.S. forces in Iraq is not in the Americans' interest, and they will be expelled by force and in a humiliating manner, just as they were expelled and vanquished in 2011."[14]

PMU Elements: We Will Not Be Silent In The Face Of American Provocations; We Have Precise Information About The Location Of The U.S. Forces In Iraq

As stated, elements in the PMU and its member militias threatened an aggressive response if the U.S. acted against its forces in Syria and Iraq, or against Iran, while emphasizing that they have detailed and precise information about the location and deployment of the U.S. troops.

On February 3, following Trump's announcement that he would leave troops in Iraq so that he could watch Iran, Ja'far Al-Husseini, military spokesman for the Iran-backed militia Kata'eb Hizbullah Iraq, threatened that if the U.S. decided to attack Syria and Iran from positions in Iraq, his organization would "chop off its hand." He added: "The American forces are a legitimate target for the Iraqi resistance, and the [Iraqi] security apparatuses should also view them as a target." The Iraqi resistance, he said, has full information about the scope, deployment and missions of the American forces.[15]

In a February 17, 2019, interview with Al-Mayadeen TV, which is identified with the Lebanese Hizbullah, Al-Husseini summarized the information about the U.S. presence in Iraq, saying: "There are 31 American bases in Iraq; seven of them are air bases and six are intelligence centers and stations... There are 34,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, along with five defense companies and 24 companies that are cooperating [with the Americans]... The [U.S.] deployment in Iraq reflects a plan about which we have information, and we will disclose [this information] in the future... In the coming days, the Americans will move, and may carry out a military operation on the Iraq-Syria border."[16]

Al-Nujaba militia spokesman Hashem Al-Moussawi said: "We will never allow Iraq to become a center for threatening neighboring countries or for espionage against Iran and the neighboring countries. This is because Iraq is an independent country whose sovereignty was attained through blood and sacrifice of life... We have firmly said that the U.S. is beating the drums of war, but we will never fear that country, and will confront the U.S. to defend our country's sovereignty... The Islamic resistance has information and data about the [U.S.] bases, about the troops and the type of weapons [they have], and about [the Americans'] strange and suspicious activities in Iraq…"[17]

Following a report on the Russia Today (RT) television channel, according to which U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo had clarified to Iraqi Prime Minister 'Adil 'Abdul-Mahdi that the U.S. would not interfere if Israel attacked pro-Iran Shi'ite targets  (i.e. PMU targets) in Iraq, Jawad Al-Talibawy, a member of the Asa'eb Ahl Al-Haq leadership, declared: "The American forces will be within range of the fire of the Islamic resistance factions, and if the PMU or the resistance factions come under attack by Israel or America, the reaction will be painful..."[18]

Several senior PMU officials responded to recent Iraqi media reports of uncertain reliability that the U.S. had arrested PMU activists, reinforced its presence in Iraq and even bombed PMU positions. For example, Qassem Musleh, PMU operations commander for the western Al-Anbar sector, said: "These provocations will not help the Americans, since they have lost everything in Iraq. They are hoping by means of this provocation to get us to launch a war against them, but we will do so only when they launch a war against us... While in the past we overlooked the American-Israeli attacks on the PMU forces, from now on we will not remain silent."[19]

Lebanese Al-Akhbar Daily Publishes Photographs And Precise Information About The Locations Of Two New American Bases In Iraq

On March 2, 2019, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Lebanese Hizbullah, reported that the Americans had begun construction of two new bases in the Al-Anbar region at the Iraq-Syria-Jordan border triangle. The daily provided the bases' coordinates and published a map showing their locations as well as "exclusive" aerial photographs. One of the bases is north of the Baghdad-Damascus highway, at 32°55'46"N 039°44'38"E, in a location previously known as the H3 airfield. The other, south of the Baghdad-Amman highway, is at 39°44'49"N 37̊°4'55"E. According to the report, the first is already partially operational, and at the second, preparations for operation are underway.

Al-Akhbar quoted Iraqi PMU officials as saying that their intelligence apparatuses are monitoring 13 American bases in Iraq and that they are receiving daily photo reports of American military activity there. They added that the aim of these new bases is to monitor the supply lines of the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut resistance axis, and to control the natural gas resources in the region. The PMU officials quoted in the article stressed that at the moment there was no significant movement on the ground, but that the PMU activity would "prevent the new bases from becoming operational."[20]

https://al-akhbar.com/Images/ArticleImages/2019322426636636870890666364851.jpg
Map of the region including the locations of the two new bases

https://al-akhbar.com/Images/ArticleImages/2019322354564636870890345648055.jpg
Aerial photographs of the bases: 1 and 2, the first base; 3 and 4, the second

 

It should be noted that PMU officials refused to confirm the report in Al-Akhbar, but stressed that the U.S. knows that these bases, if established, will cause it trouble.[21]

 

[2] Alarabiya.net, January 16, 2019.

[3] Uk.reuters.com, February 3, 2019.

[4] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 9, 2019.

[5] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), February 12, 2019.

[6] Washingtonpost.com, December 26, 2019.

[7] Almaalomah.com, February 2, 2019.

[8] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 15, 2019.

[9] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 18, 2019.

[10] The reference is to an Iraq-U.S. cooperation agreement signed in 2008, which deals inter alia with the U.S. military presence in the country.

[11] Almaalomah.com, February 2, 2019.

[12] Alnujaba-news.com, January 21, 2019.

[13] Almaalomah.com, February 4, 2019.

[14] Almaalomah.com, February 5, 2019.

[15] Almayadeen.net, February 3, 2019.

[16] Almayadeen.net, February 17, 2019.

[17] Tasnimnews.com, February 4, 2019.

[18] Alnujaba-news.com, January 29, 2019,

[19] Basnews.com, January 21, 2019.

[20] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 2, 2019.

[21] Alnujaba.com, March 2, 2019; Alnujaba-news.com, March 2, 2019.