Iraqi officials unite against US presence in the country

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The Iraqi government said on Tuesday that it will “not back down” from supporting parliament’s decision to expel foreign forces from the country, as a populist cleric called for protests against outside meddling.

Baghdad is caught in the midst of tensions between the US and Iran following the killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani earlier this month.

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during a news conference in Najaf, Iraq May 17, 2018. Reuters, file

An Iraqi man leans on a wall bearing murals inspired by ongoing anti-government demonstrations in the capital Baghdad's Tahrir square on January 14, 2020. AFP

Iraqi security forces block streets leading to the Ministry of Higher Education as protesters gather nearby in the capital Baghdad on January 14, 2020. AFP

An Iraqi anti-government protester using the national flag as a mask takes part in a rally near the Ministry of Higher Education in the capital Baghdad on January 14, 2020. AFP

Iraqi anti-government protesters sit in a tent by murals inspired by ongoing demonstrations in the capital Baghdad's Tahrir square on January 14, 2020. AFP

Demonstrations erupted in October in Iraq's capital and across its Shiite-majority south, railing against government graft and a lack of jobs. AFP

Thousands of Iraqi university students have gone on strike to support protesters against the Iraqi government corruption, which started since 01 October 2019. EPA

Iraqi soldiers stand guard as Iraqi university students chant slogans as they take part in a demonstration in front of the Iraqi ministry of higher educations in Baghdad, Iraq, 14 January 2020. EPA

Iraqi soldiers stand guard as Iraqi university students chant slogans as they take part in a demonstration in front of the Iraqi ministry of higher educations in Baghdad, Iraq, 14 January 2020. EPA

Iraqi university students chant slogans as they take part in a demonstration in front of the Iraqi ministry of higher educations in Baghdad, Iraq, 14 January 2020. EPA

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Suleimani was Iran’s top external enforcer and oversaw pro-Iranian militia across the region.

The death of the commander on Iraqi soil pushed the parliament to expel foreign troops from the country, including US forces. The vote was a non-binding resolution meaning that the government is not legally bound by parliament’s resolution.

But the US State department said it will not hold discussions with Iraq regarding US troop withdrawal from the country.

“The government will not back down from supporting parliament’s decision to remove foreign forces from Iraqi territory," Prime Minister’s spokesperson William Warda said in a statement.

“Iraq will not sign a new deal to keep American forces in the country,” he said.

A strategic framework agreement signed in 2008 between Washington and Baghdad called for a close defence co-operation to deter threats to Iraqi “sovereignty, security and territorial integrity".

The government's call comes as an Iraqi political alliance, affiliated with Iran, threatened US troops with military escalation if they refuse to withdraw from the country.

The Iran-backed Fatah alliance has the second largest bloc in parliament.

“The Iraqi government is required to take measures to end the presence of foreign forces in the country, " head of the bloc, Muhammad Al Ghabban, said.

Mr Al Ghabban warned that any “delay by the American will result in an escalation and military confrontation”.

Populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called late on Tuesday for one million people to take to the streets against the presence of US troops.

"Iraq's land and sovereignty is being violated by invasive forces," Mr Al Sadr said on Twitter.

"I'm calling for a peaceful one million man Iraqi revolution to condemn American presence and its violations in Iraq,” he said.

Iranian-backed militias and a US-led military coalition have both helped Iraq defeat ISIS, which overran a third of its territory in 2014.

They have also been embroiled in a proxy conflict in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

U.S. soldiers are seen at the site where an Iranian missile hit at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq. Reuters

Debris and rubble are seen at the site where an Iranian missile hit at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq. Reuters

U.S. soldiers inspect the site where an Iranian missile hit at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq. Reuters

U.S. soldiers are seen at the site where an Iranian missile hit at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq. Reuters

Blast walls of a sleeping quarters for U.S. soldiers are seen at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq. Reuters

Military vehicles of U.S. soldiers are seen at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq. Reuters

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The Iraqi ambassador to Brussels, Sadiq Al Rikabi, discussed with Nato’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, the recent attacks on Iraqi soil.

“Iraq rejects the attacks on its land and considers it a violation of its sovereignty,” Mr Al Rakabi said.

The Iraqi ambassador said that Baghdad is co-operating with international partners to reduce escalation and tensions between the US and Iran.

Mr Stoltenberg affirmed Nato’s “respect for Iraqi sovereignty and its co-operation with the international community to combat terrorism”.

Updated: January 15, 2020 10:00 AM

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