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Playing with fire: Calls grow louder in Iraq for US ouster after latest aggression

By Wesam Bahrani

Calls are growing louder for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq after the latest bombing of the country's western border region with Syria that targeted Hashd al-Sha'abi (PMU) facilities and killed 16 of its soldiers in their fight against the resurgence of Daesh terrorists. 

A massive funeral procession on Sunday that began at the PMU headquarters in Baghdad's Palestine Street saw senior political and military figures in attendance, including Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr organization and part of the parliamentary Fatah alliance as well the head of the PMU, Faleh al-Fayadh.

Speaking on the podium, al-Fayadh called on the Iraqi Prime Minister to speed up the expulsion of US forces from the Arab country, warning that America "is playing with fire" by attacking the PMU's administration offices, a hospital and killing its members who were protecting the border.  

“We will not allow this pure blood of our brothers, which represents the dignity of Iraq to go unanswered... the killing of our brothers will not be limited to only funeral processions and condolences... this is playing with fire, attacking the Hashd al-Sha'abi is playing with fire,” the PMU chief declared.

Al-Fayadh warned that the US aggression "crossed a red line", calling on Iraqi political executives to "purify our land" by expelling foreign forces, describing the Hashd al-Sha'abi as the pride of the nation and Iraqi armed forces.  

The Hashd al-Sha'abi was recently redeployed to the Western Iraqi Anbar province at the Syrian border by the Commander in Chief of Iraq's armed forces, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, to protect the deserts separating the two countries from Daesh terrorists. 

The forces dispatched to Anbar were repeatedly attacked on Saturday by a US warplane.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said the aggression targeted Iraqi security forces as well as civilian sites in the Akashat and al-Qaim areas, which "led to deaths and injuries, including civilians, in addition to the damage of residential buildings and citizens’ property". 

The office of the Iraqi Prime Minister later published a video of al-Sudani walking next to al-Fayadh as they visited PMU members injured by the US strikes at a large hospital complex.

Footage also emerged of Abu Fadek, who replaced the late martyr Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis as deputy head of the Hashd al-Sha'abi inspecting the aftermath of the US attacks at al-Qaim, alongside the acting speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mohsen al-Mandalawi. 

Abu Fadek is not known to issue statements or give interviews and speeches and it is impossible to read his mind. As the PMU head, he will be coordinating with al-Sudani on the withdrawal of US forces. 

In a post on social media, the head of the State of Law Coalition in the Iraqi parliament and former premier, Nouri al-Maliki said "The American aggression on Iraq's sovereignty and the cold-blooded killing of its sons has recurred in an unprecedented manner, without restraint from the international community."

Major General Yahya Rasoul and advisor to al-Sudani said the US strikes came at "a time when Iraq is striving to ensure the stability of the region". 

As anger boils, Iraqi decision-makers are under pressure to implement Resolution 18 passed in 2020 for all foreign forces to depart Iraq. The resolution was passed after the US assassination of top anti-terror commanders Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and PMU deputy chief al-Muhandis. 

Washington claims it does not seek escalation in the region, but the reckless bombings of the region near the Iraqi-Syrian border is certainly not the right path to de-escalate tensions. 

The White House was quick to claim that "Iranian-backed militants" were behind the attack on Tower 22. Yet, the funeral ceremonies on Sunday saw coffins of the dead soldiers draped in Iraqi flags and photos of the Iraqi martyr al-Muhandis held by mourners, while al-Fayadh concluded his speech by vowing not to let down Iraq's top religious authority Ayatollah Seyyed Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf. 

All the events and all the remarks lacked an Iranian tone to them. 

Tehran provided military, logistical, and advisory support to Baghdad in the summer of 2014 when Daesh terrorists overran two-thirds of the Iraqi territory. This is on public record. The US-trained Iraqi army collapsed. The Hashd Al-Sha'abi was formed to liberate the occupied land. 

Iraqi forces, spearheaded by the PMU, now have the military capability to conduct their own operations without the need for Tehran to support them. Iran has never given orders on how the Iraqi resistance acts toward the American occupation, as attested by both sides.

The question of anti-US factions restoring Iraq's national identity, sovereignty and territory integrity appears to have been overlooked. The matter of a US occupation in Iraq receives no news coverage in the West.  

Some US officials have linked the casualties of American troops to Kataib Hezbollah, a faction of the Hashd al-Sha'abi in Iraq.

The irony is that Kataib Hezbollah, whose main forces answer to the government while some members recently joined the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, advised all its members to refrain from attacking US bases out of respect for the government. 

Al-Sudani's government is currently working on a plan for all foreign forces, including American forces, to leave the Arab country in line with the long-standing demand of the Iraqi people.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan indicated the US intends to conduct "additional strikes" saying the air assaults on Friday "are not the end" of the US aggression, which Washington claims is in response to the PMU operation on Tower 22 that led to the death of three US soldiers. 

What is Tower 22? Even Western media were scrambling to find information on the secretive US site after it was struck with a drone by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. 

The Iraqi resistance strike on Tower 22 was actually directed at al-Tanf. In the aftermath of the operation, the resistance published a statement stating it had targeted al-Tanf in response to the US occupation of Iraq and in solidarity with the people of Gaza. 

As it turns out, the secretive Tower 22 in Jordan is located right next to the US base al-Tanf on the Syrian-Jordanian border. 

Such is the proximity that even Jordanian officials initially said the attack took place at al-Tanf in Syria and not in Jordanian territory. 

In essence, both Tower 22 and al-Tanf are two sections of one US military base. What divides them is a border with one-half of the American base in Jordan and the other in Syria; the latter of which the illegal US occupation refuses to withdraw from. 

The Iraqi resistance targeted al-Tanf in Syria without anticipating the drone strike would reach Tower 22. This is while the US military has land-to-air missiles stationed at the site that are capable of bringing down incoming projectiles. 

Why the US missile systems failed to intercept the drone operation from Iraq, which was intended for the al-Tanf section of the base, is a question that the Pentagon itself has been grappling with. 

Needless to say, what happened on January 28 that led to the death of three American soldiers partially boiled down to US technical and military negligence. 

Will US attacks deter the PMU from striking US bases again, as long as the Israeli genocidal war on Gaza continues? The short answer is no. The PMU attacked US bases in the aftermath of the deadly American aggression. 

It was another grave mistake by Washington. Under Iraqi law, US forces must leave Iraq. The Hashd al-Sha'abi is within its rights to target American bases that are illegally occupying Iraqi territory.

The US has no right to be in Iraq, let alone kill its soldiers. 

Washington claims it does not seek escalation in the region, yet now that the Iraqi government is working to remove the US occupation; the Pentagon has escalated tensions in one of many flashpoints in West Asia that will lead to its eventual ouster.

The US has crossed the proverbial red line. How far Washington wants to escalate tensions in Iraq is something President Joe Biden must consider. None of this would have happened if the US had not backed the Israeli regime in its genocidal war against the civilian population of Gaza. 

One thing appears clear. The Iraqis are not afraid of long-range B-1 bombers flown from the US‌. They are determined to end the US occupation of Iraq and the Israeli genocide against Palestinians. 

Wesam Bahrani is an Iraqi journalist and commentator.

(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)

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