Occupying US forces in Iraq have pulled out from a strategic air base in northern oil-rich province of Kirkuk and handed it over to the Arab country’s security forces.
The US-led military coalition said in a statement that the K1 Air Base, which lies 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of Kirkuk, has been submitted to Iraqi forces on Sunday.
“Given the successes achieved by the Iraqi security forces in the campaign against Daesh, the coalition is redeploying its forces to other positions in Iraq. Such movements had been planned a long time ago with the Iraqi government,” the statement added.
The US-led alliance further alleged that the transfer of the US forces has nothing to do with the recent missile attacks against US-occupied bases in Iraq, or the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.
"The Kirkuk Air Force Base has served as a crucial location for the [US-led] coalition, Iraqi security forces and Iraq's Counter-terrorism Service (CTS) in the battle against Daesh, and for the pursuit and destruction of safe havens of the terrorists in the rugged Hamrin Mountains,” Brigadier General Vincent Barker of the coalition said.
He added, “This base will continue to be a key location in our joint efforts to eliminate the evils of Daesh. Today, the transfer took place in coordination with the government of Iraq, thanks to the efforts and successes of our partners in the Iraqi security forces.”
On March 26, an unnamed Iraqi security source told the Arabic service of Russia’s Sputnik news agency that forces from the US-led alliance had departed Qayyarah Airfield West, which lies some 70 kilometers (43.4 miles) south of Mosul on the west bank of the Tigris River, and handed it over to Iraqi government troops.
The development came only a day after French troops in the US-led military coalition left Iraq.
Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf, the spokesman for the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces, told the official Iraqi News Agency on Wednesday that “French troops had left the Iraqi territory, and that the US-led coalition had cleared the air base.”
“Their departure comes under agreements conducted with the Iraqi government,” Khalaf added without elaborating.
Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill on January 5, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country following the assassination of top Iranian Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, along with his companions, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi, in a US airstrike authorized by President Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport two days earlier.
Later on January 9, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the former Iraqi prime minister, called on the United States to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a mechanism for the move.
Infuriated by the Iraqi parliament's vote, US President Donald Trump threatened sanctions should US troops be expelled from the Arab country.
According to a statement released by his office at the time, Abdul-Mahdi “requested that delegates be sent to Iraq to set the mechanisms to implement the parliament's decision for the secure withdrawal of (foreign) forces from Iraq” in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The 78-year-old politician said Iraq rejects any violation of its sovereignty, particularly the US military's violation of Iraqi airspace in the assassination airstrike.
The US troop withdrawal from the K1 Air Base came two days after the anti-terror Iraqi resistance group Kata’ib Hezbollah held a military drill, dubbed ‘Hunting the Crow’, to prepare itself for battling occupying US troops after suspicious American activities recently.
Kata’ib Hezbollah had earlier blown the lid off a plot by the US military to carry out massive aerial operations — backed by ground troops – against the bases of the anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), which is currently helping the Iraqi government in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The US plans to conduct heliborne operations backed up by ground troops and fighter jets against positions belonging to security agencies and positions of Iraq’s resistance groups, Kata’ib added.
Days ago, top US general in Iraq, Robert P. White warned over a Pentagon’s secret directive, which called on US military commanders to prepare a campaign against anti-terror Kata'ib Hezbollah.He warned about the costs and risks of any such attack, saying it could be "bloody and counterproductive."
The US blames Kata'ib for about a dozen rocket attacks against occupying American troops in Iraq over the past few months. Washington claims that the group is backed by Iran.
The US has also conducted a string of deadly airstrikes on Iraqi military bases recently. Baghdad denounced the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty, and aggression against its official armed forces.
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