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By law or force: Iraq's Shiite armed groups vow to oust US troops

AFP  |  Baghdad 

Ousting US troops from despite Donald Trump's vow to stay is now the top goal of pro-Iranian Shiite groups. And their leaders say there are only two ways -- by passing a new law, or by force.

US-relations have grown tense once again, after a series of ups and downs over the years, from the 1990 Gulf war though crippling sanctions to the 2003 invasion that toppled and the fight against the Islamic State group.

But a year after declared victory over IS following a three-year war against the jihadists in which it was also backed by Iran, the Americans are seen by some as an unwanted "occupying force".

And if they do stay, "every Iraqi will have the legitimate right to confront them by any means," warned Mohammed Mohie, for the Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq, a force close to that has also fought on the side of in

The of the Asaib Ahel al-Haq (League of the Righteous) group, Qais al-Khazali, echoed the warning.

"If we are ever needed, we are ready," he said.

There were nearly 4,500 US troops killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, including in fighting with Shiite groups.

But before any decision to take up arms again and spill more blood, Mohie said he wants to give lawmakers a chance to set a timeframe for the departure of US troops from Iraq.

A bill has been tabled in parliament, and there could be a rare show of unanimity in support of it between its two biggest factions: populist Moqtada Sadr's alliance, which champions Iraq's independence, and the pro-Iranian bloc of former anti-IS fighters.

"For three years, the main rivalry in parliament has been among Shiite factions," said Renad Mansour, a at the Chatham House think-tank.

"They cannot agree on the choice of a minister, but they do on one point: that the experience of having in Iraq has been bad."

Ironically, the person who has given new impetus to the proposed timetable for American troops to leave Iraq is the US himself.

At the weekend, Trump provoked indignation even among Washington's allies in when he said he plans to keep American forces in Iraq to keep an eye on

As a result, US diplomats and military officials in were "very worried" and doing everything to "minimise" the impact of the remarks, said Mansour.

Trump had already irritated the Iraqis by not meeting any of the country's officials during a surprise visit to US troops stationed less than 200 kilometres (125 miles) from

US forces left Iraq in 2011, only to return in 2014, at the of the coalition against IS in Iraq and

But the is now seeking to use Iraq as "a base for attacking neighbouring countries," told AFP.

"Trump does not understand that Iraq is now a strong country. But he can be sure that if he persists, he will pay very dearly," said the wearing a Shiite white turban.

Mohie said adoption of the bill on a US withdrawal would be the "first step".

But he swiftly added that "we think the will again challenge the popular will" by trying to stay in Iraq.

In that case, Mohie said his forces and others like it would move to the "second step" and take up arms against "an occupying force".

"The resistance factions have gained capabilities and expertise in the fight against IS," he said.

The experience they gained "will serve to confront any army that threatens Iraq and its sovereignty."


He said that above all any confrontation would allow Shiite factions "to find an external threat on which to focus attention rather than their internal problems.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, February 07 2019. 17:40 IST
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