Several Iraqi militias, which have been attacking the U.S. for quite some time, have vowed to attack American forces again and expel them by force from Iraq if the December 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. combat troops from the country expires.
According to Newsweek, the Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission, a loose organization of paramilitary groups aligned with the Iranian Axis of Resistance that is opposed to the American presence in the region, stated that its members were “closely monitoring the extent of commitment to the outcomes of the so-called strategic dialogue round.” Under the strategic dialogue, in July Washington and Baghdad agreed to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq.
The statement read that the militias “did not believe in the seriousness of the occupation and its commitment” to withdrawing combat troops from Iraq according to the established timeline. In light of this belief, the militia council instead threatened to expel U.S. troops by force.
“We affirm that the weapons of the honorable resistance, which have been talked about a lot in the past days, and some insisted on embroiling them in recent political rivalries, will be ready to dismember the occupation as soon as the moment comes and the deadline ends after twelve o’clock in the evening of 12/31/2021,” the statement added.
The July agreement between the Biden and al-Kadhimi administrations is not expected to be the pell-mell evacuation that unfolded in Afghanistan. In fact, there isn’t expected to be many of the 2,500 troops that are still deployed in Iraq withdrawn at all.
Tahseen al-Khafaji, a spokesman for the Iraqi Joint Operations Command, told local news media that while the U.S. is sticking to its December 31 withdrawal timetable, it will continue to provide Iraq with armaments, training, and intelligence against the Islamic State.
The U.S. withdrawal of “combat troops” is expected to be mainly a paper drill, with the majority of troops simply being re-classified from a combat to an advisory one. This agreement was supposed to give Kadhimi some time to conduct the October elections. In the elections, Iraqis voted to curtail the influence of pro-Iranian factions.
The militia council and many of the Shia groups that lost seats in the election have claimed election fraud took place. However, the Iraq Independent Election Commission has rejected nearly all of the complaints as baseless. After the election, the residence of Prime Minister Kadhimi was targeted by small, explosives-laden drones in an assassination attempt.
The formerly strong Iraqi parliament’s pro-Iran faction considers Kadhimi too soft on Washington. They opposed Kadhimi’s appointment last year especially after the U.S. assassination of Iranian MG Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike in January 2020. Following the strike, the Iraqi parliament immediately passed a non-binding resolution to expel the U.S. troops.
Militias Call for Volunteers to Fight US
The presence of U.S. forces has been a thorny issue in Iraq since the rise of the militias. The militias increasingly don’t take orders from the Iraqi military (which they are ostensibly part of) or the government. They declared that the war against ISIS was over four years ago. However, the U.S. government has steadfastly insisted that pockets of ISIS terrorists remain and that the advisory mission will continue.
The Biden administration knows that the simple change in going from a combat to an advisory role will not halt the dozens of attacks that the militias have conducted against American troops and presence in the region. And the militias, still smarting from their political defeat at the polls, are now turning their eyes toward a showdown with America.
Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, a pro-Iranian militia that was the subject of two American airstrikes following repeated attacks on U.S. troops, is calling for fresh volunteers to fight the American troops after midnight December 31.
Militia Secretary-General Abu Alaa al-Walai went on Twitter with his calls to violence. “With the approaching hour of decisiveness and a major confrontation, the Islamic Resistance, the Sayyid al-Shuhada Brigades, announces the opening of the door to belonging and volunteering to its ranks and calls on our resistant Iraqi people and the resistance factions to raise the level of readiness in preparation for the decisive and historic confrontation with the American occupation on 12/31/2021 after 12:00 a.m.”
Meanwhile, the United States insists that it is sticking to the December 31 deadline but will continue to assist the Iraqi government in an advisory role.
Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for the Middle East Dana Stroud spoke with Al-Jazeera News saying, “We are still committed to advising and assisting the Iraqi forces in their fight, and we’ll be there so long as they would like our help.”