Iraq parliament demands US troop ouster after Soleimani killing

Iraq parliament demands US troop ouster after Soleimani killing

US troops Iraq
American soldiers walk around at the Taji base complex which hosts Iraqi and US troops and is located thirty kilometres north of the capital Baghdad on Dec 29, 2014. (Photo: AFP/Ali Al-Saadi)

BAGHDAD: Pressure against the US in Iraq ramped up on Sunday (Jan 5), as rockets hit near the American embassy and parliament demanded the ouster of thousands of US troops over the killing of a top Iranian general.

Ties have deteriorated after an American precision drone strike on Friday on the Baghdad international airport that killed Iran's Major General Qasem Soleimani and top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

A pair of rockets hit near the US embassy in Iraq's high-security Green Zone for the second night in a row on Sunday just hours after Iraq's foreign ministry summoned the American ambassador over the strike.

READ: US embassy urges citizens to leave Iraq 'immediately'

Earlier, caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi attended an extraordinary parliamentary session during which he slammed the US strike as a "political assassination".

He joined 168 lawmakers - just enough for quorum in Iraq's 329-seat parliament - to discuss the ouster of US troops.

Some 5,200 US soldiers are stationed across Iraqi bases to support local troops preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State militant group.

They are deployed as part of the broader international coalition, invited by the Iraqi government in 2014 to help fight IS.

READ: 'We urge all parties to de-escalate': World reacts to US killing of top Iran general Qasem Soleimani

"The parliament has voted to commit the Iraqi government to cancel its request to the international coalition for help to fight IS," speaker Mohammed Halbusi announced.

The cabinet would have to approve any decision but the premier indicated support for an ouster in his speech.

"We face two main choices," he told MPs: either immediately voting for foreign troops to leave or setting limits and a timeframe for withdrawal through a parliamentary process.

READ: US killing of Soleimani 'tantamount' to war, Iran's UN ambassador says

READ: US says it 'terminated' Soleimani to thwart attack on Americans; deploys troops

US-LED COALITION 'PAUSES' OPS

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reacted to the parliament's move by saying: "We'll have to take a look at what we do when the Iraqi leadership and government makes a decision".

Britain, a key member of the US-led coalition against jihadists, urged Iraq to allow soldiers to stay in the country, saying their work was "vital".

Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council secretary, said US troop presence in Iraq after the Iraqi parliamentary decision would be considered an "occupation".

Hardline parliamentarians with ties to Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi, a military force close to Iran, had demanded the immediate expulsion of all foreign troops.

READ: Airlines suspend flights to Baghdad over security concerns

No Kurdish and most Sunni MPs boycotted the session as they were more supportive of an American military presence, seen as a counterweight to Iran.

Tom Warrick, a former US official and current fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Soleimani and pro-Iran factions within the Hashed had long sought the US ouster.

"If US forces do end up withdrawing, it could grant Soleimani a post-humous victory," Warrick told AFP.

READ: Qasem Soleimani: Everything we know so far after top Iran general was killed in US strike

As the session got under way, the US-led coalition announced it was suspending its Iraq operations due to deadly rocket attacks on their bases.

"This has limited our capacity to conduct training with partners and to support their operations against Daesh (IS) and we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review," it said.

Late Saturday, two missiles slammed into the Green Zone and another two rockets hit an airbase north of the capital housing American troops.

There had been fears of a volleys of rockets following a warning from a hardline Hashed faction for Iraqis to move away from US forces by Sunday afternoon.

Increased tensions had already prompted NATO to suspend training activities in Iraq and a US defence official told AFP American-led coalition forces would "limit" operations.

Source: AFP/aj/de

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