BAGHDAD — A group of Shiite military factions are working through their parliamentary blocs under the Fatah Alliance — which consists of leaders of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance to enact a law to drive US troops out of the country. They claim there is no need for the troops to stay since they defeated the Islamic State (IS) and brought security in the western, Sunni regions of Iraq.
Informed sources close to the Popular Mobilization Units’ leadership told Al-Monitor that the draft law on the table in Iraq's parliament demands all foreign troops pull out of Iraq within a time limit ranging between six and 12 months. This is in addition to abolishing the US-Iraq security deal in terms of US security firms, particularly those tasked with securing the Iraq-Jordan international highway.
The two alliances are basing their argument on the 2008 security agreement that stipulates the withdrawal of US troops by the end of 2011, adding that the return of some troops as part of the US-led coalition against IS came at the Iraqi government’s request after the fall of Mosul to IS in 2014.
During a visit to US troops on Dec. 26, 2018, at Ain al-Asad military base in Anbar, US President Donald Trump said US troops “will not pull out from Iraq” and will beat the enemies from there. Following this statement, the alliances — which are hostile to the United States — are seemingly determined more than ever to oblige the Iraqi government to drive US forces out and have threatened to use force if the legal path does not achieve their desired results.
Mahmoud al-Rabiei, a political bureau member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq — which is part of the Fatah Alliance — indicated that his movement, along with its parliamentary allies, are working on a draft law to drive US troops out of Iraq. Speaking to Al-Monitor, he noted that the draft law does not provide for the annulment of the security agreement, saying, “The security agreement will be left for a future time and future legislation. For now, we are waiting for parliament to appoint the committees before sending the draft law for parliament vote.”
Rabiei added, “Parliament had issued a decision early last year recommending pulling out foreign troops. The previous government, however, did not abide by the decision, which was behind the issuance of a binding decision.”Commenting on the standing of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, Rabiei indicated that “Abdul Mahdi is in favor of the [draft] law. He, however, needs a strong justification to face the US side.”
US troops have been present at multiple bases in Iraq since Mosul fell to IS in 2014 — most notably Ain al-Asad military base in Anbar province, Qayyara base, Altun Kupri base near Kirkuk, Balad air base in Salahuddin province and Camp Victory base in Baghdad. This is in addition to the bases in Atrush, Harir, Halabja and near Sinjar in the Kurdistan Region. Both the Iraqi and US sides have imposed tight security measures in the areas surrounding these bases. Some bases were shut down following the liberation from IS, but there are no accurate figures on the number or the number of foreign boots on the ground in Iraq.
The Fatah Alliance, State of Law Coalition and Sairoon Alliance are focused on the preparation of a draft decision or draft law that is expected to be put to a parliament vote soon. Sunni blocs, however, do not want to voice an opposing stance, although it is believed that the Sunni parties would rather delay enactment of the law out of fear that terrorism would return to the Sunni regions of Iraq.
Kurds have explicitly rejected the draft law and demanded that the US-Iraq strategic security agreement be respected. Kurdish politician Kifah Mahmoud told Al-Monitor, “The draft law designed to pull foreign troops out of the country is nothing more than political one-upmanship by some parliamentary blocs. As for the blocs that have a genuine desire for the legislation to be enacted, they are a few. It is an adventure to go along with them, and the consequences would be disastrous.”
Mahmoud added, “Instability continues to prevail over the region, and the US troops consist of only trainers and counselors, similar to the Iranian counselors. We are in need of international assistance.” Commenting on the US bases in the Kurdistan Region, he indicated that “there are no bases in the Kurdistan Region, and they [the Americans] are nothing more than counselors who provide the Kurdish forces with support.”
Some media outlets reported that US troops withdrawing from Syria would be heading to the Kurdistan Region, particularly to the K1 camp. Kurdish parties, however, denied this news.
The potential enactment of the draft law would ignite a US reaction. As it counters Iran at various levels, Washington will not easily give up its presence in Iraq and needs to remain close to the agitated Syrian arena. If the draft law is passed, US sanctions could become applicable to Iraq.
The efforts that some parliamentary blocs are making to enact the draft law are seemingly nothing more than media propaganda designed to pressure the government to prevent US-Iraq security and military cooperation from growing wider and US troops from having permanent military bases. Based on that, the current US military presence — which neither amounts to a military base nor contradicts the Iraqi Constitution — will remain unchanged, at least for the near future.
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