The US military has claimed the end of its combat operations across Iraq under the terms of an earlier agreement with Baghdad, but added that thousands of its troops will remain in the Arab nation as “advisers.”
"This is the natural evolution," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby boasted recently after the purported change of the American military’s role was finalized at the conclusion of technical talks between officials of both countries.
Kirby insisted, however, that the change will not result in any immediate change to the laydown and number of US forces in Iraq, saying that nearly 2,500 American soldiers still remain in the country and will continue advising and training Iraqi security forces after the “transition” was completed in the past week.
The US-Iraq agreement to pull out all American combat troops from the country by the end of this year was devised back in July following persisting demands by Iraqi lawmakers and community leaders for withdrawal of US forces after their terrorist drone assassination in Baghdad airport of visiting Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani along with other senior Iraqi and Iranian military officials early last year.
US President Joe Biden and Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi declared last summer that the US mission in Iraq will transition from combat to an “advisory” role by the end of the year.
“The delegations decided, following recent technical talks, that the security relationship will fully transition to a training, advising, assisting, and intelligence-sharing role, and that there will be no US forces with a combat role in Iraq by December 31, 2021,” Baghdad and Washington said in a joint statement on July 26.
The agreement, which has effectively given a mere new name to the US military presence in Iraq, has enraged Iraqi resistance groups, which have played a significant role in defeating the Daesh terrorist group in Iraq in 2017.
In October, Iraq's anti-terror Kata'ib Hezbollah group said all Iraqi resistance groups and factions will “use all the weapons at their disposal” against American forces in the Arab country if Washington refuses to withdraw its forces despite a parliament’s decision to expel them from Iraq.
Following the announcement about the change of US military mission in Iraq, however, the country’s anti-terror Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba movement fiercely rejected the move and reiterated its determination to continue the struggle to drive out all American occupation forces from their country.
“American forces cannot be identified as anything other than occupiers if they do not withdraw by the end of the current year. We express our support for the groups that are mounting resistance against occupying US forces,” the group's spokesman, Nasr al-Shammari, said in an interview with Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen television news network broadcast on Thursday evening.
Shammari, whose group is part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi, termed retaliatory attacks against US troops in Iraq "a great honor", saying, “We announce an alliance with the groups that are targeting American forces.”
This is while US military officials and observers have expressed fears about the threat posed to the US troops remaining in Iraq from the country’s Shia militia groups, blaming them for persisting drone and rocket attacks on American installations across Iraq and Syria.
“We have to assume threats to US forces remain credible in Iraq," Kirby further conceded in his remarks on Thursday.
Anti-US sentiment has been steadily broiling in Iraq since the 2020 assassination of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the country’s Popular Mobilization Units, along with the region's legendary anti-terror commander General Soleimani.
They were targeted along with their companions on January 3, 2020, in a terrorist drone strike authorized by former US president Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport.
Two days after the attack, Iraqi lawmakers approved a bill that required the government to end the presence of all foreign military forces led by the US.