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US military expanding Ain al-Asad air base despite calls to withdraw troops from Iraq: Source

This aerial file picture taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq. (Photo by AP)

An informed Iraqi security source says the US military is spending large sums of money to develop a major air base in the Arab country’s western province of Anbar, despite outcries from Iraqi people, parliamentarians and popular forces demanding Washington to withdraw its troops from the country.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arabic-language al-Maalomah news agency on Monday that US forces have spent a lot on the expansion of Ain al-Asad air base, located about 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, constructed new buildings and annexed other areas to the military facility.

The unnamed source went on to say that American occupation forces have built dozens of new halls and buildings inside the base, and have even installed a new missile defense system to ensure the security of Ain al-Asad base against possible drone strikes and missile attacks.

“The development of the existing buildings in Ain al-Asad is not being carried out under the supervision of Anbar provincial security commanders. The presence of US forces at the base is related to the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who is also Commander-in-Chief of Iraqi forces,” he added.

The source noted that the expansion of Ain al-Asad base is in process despite the fact that Baghdad and Washington have both announced that US forces will soon withdraw completely from Iraq.

In recent months, Ain al-Asad base has come under frequent drone and missile strikes amid growing anti-US sentiment, which has intensified since last year's assassination of top Iranian anti-terror commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

General Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and his Iraqi trenchmate Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Units, were targeted along with their companions on January 3, 2020 in a terror drone strike authorized by former US president Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport.

Two days after the attack, Iraqi lawmakers approved a bill that requires the government to end the presence of all foreign military forces led by the US in the country.

On January 8, 2020, the IRGC targeted the Ain al-Asad after launching a wave of attacks to retaliate the assassination of General Soleimani.

According to the Pentagon, more than 100 American forces suffered “traumatic brain injuries” during the counterstrike on the base. The IRGC, however, says Washington uses the term to mask the number of the Americans who perished during the retaliation.

Iran has described the missile attack on Ain al-Assad as a “first slap.”

On April 8, Iraq and the US said they had agreed on the eventual withdrawal of US “combat” troops from Iraq, and that the two sides would hold talks to work out the timing. The mission of US forces is now supposed to be focused on what is claimed to be “training” Iraqi troops to fight Daesh.

Iraqi resistance groups have warned that they will treat the American troops as occupying forces and take up arms against them if they refuse to leave their country.

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