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Long overdue presence: Iraq PM wants ‘quick’ withdrawal of US forces

Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani attends a ceremony marking the Police Day in Baghdad on January 9, 2024.

Iraq wants US-led military forces to immediately leave the Arab country due to their destabilizing effects, Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani says.

"There is a need to reorganize this [Iraq-US] relationship so that it is not a target or justification for any party, internal or foreign, to tamper with stability in Iraq and the region," Sudani told Reuters in an interview in Baghdad on Tuesday.

The fresh call comes after the Pentagon on Monday said it had no plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

That came after Sudani announced last Friday that Iraq would begin the process of closing down the US-led coalition.

Sudani said the exit should be negotiated under "a process of understanding and dialogue."

"Let's agree on a time frame (for the coalition's exit) that is, honestly, quick, so that they don't remain long and the attacks keep happening," he said.

Longstanding calls by Iraqi factions for the US-led coalition's departure have gained steam after a series of US strikes on Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units, which are part of Iraq's security forces.

Iraq has condemned US strikes on bases used by the PMU forces, as well as a recent strike against a senior PMF commander in the heart of Baghdad, as grave violations of sovereignty.

‘Gaza war must end’

Also in his remarks, the Iraqi premier said only an end to Israel's war on Gaza would stop the risk of regional escalation.

"This (end of the Gaza war) is the only solution. Otherwise, we will see more expansion of the arena of conflict in a sensitive region for the world that holds much of its energy supply," Sudani said.

Iraqis have lashed out at the Israeli regime and also the US over the atrocities in Gaza, with the Baghdad government describing the mass killing and displacement of Palestinian civilians as a textbook case of genocide.

Iraq’s Islamic Resistance, an umbrella group of anti-US armed groups in the Arab country, has conducted dozens of attacks on US bases in support of Gaza’s resistance.

According to the Pentagon, US military forces have come under attack at least 118 times in Iraq and Syria since the Israeli onslaught on Gaza began last October.

In one of the latest attacks, Iraqi resistance hit the US-run base in Syria’s Koniko gas field, using rockets, Iraqi media reported Wednesday.

The US maintains some 2,500 troops in Iraq under the pretext of fighting Daesh, which in 2014 seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Daesh was defeated in 2017, with then-commander of Iranian IRGC’s Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani announcing the end of Daesh’s domination of Muslim lands in November 2017. But sporadic attacks by Daesh occur in the Arab country by remnants of the terror group.  

‘US-led coalition no longer needed’

Sudani said he was seeking the coalition's exit because the coalition's raison d'etre has long ended.

He said Iraq could now defend itself in the face of terrorism and needs to exert full sovereignty over its territory - thereby avoiding giving anyone an excuse to draw Iraq into a regional conflict.

"Ending its presence will prevent more tensions and the entanglement of internal and regional security issues," Sudani said.

The US "is not an enemy to us and we are not at war with it, but if these tensions continue it will definitely impact and create a gap in this relationship," he said.

Iraq's parliament in 2020 voted for the departure of American forces days after the US assassinated General Soleimani and deputy PMU commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in a strike outside Baghdad airport.

The next year, the US announced the end of its combat mission in Iraq and a shift to advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, a move that changed little on the ground.

The Gaza war has put the issue back in center stage, with many Iraqi groups calling for the final exit of all foreign forces.

The chief of Lebanon's Hezbollah resistance group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech on Friday that US strikes in Iraq should pave the way for the final withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, which would also make their presence in northeastern Syria untenable.

Iran has also supported calls for Iraq to oust the US-led coalition.

"The time has come for the withdrawal of American military forces from this country (Iraq)," said Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kana’ani  in a presser in Tehran on Monday.

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