US military resumes joint operations with Iraq, officials say

Operations target Islamic State after pause following US drone killing of Suleimani

American soldiers at the Ain al-Asad base in Iraq’s western Anbar province on January 13th. Photograph: Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

American soldiers at the Ain al-Asad base in Iraq’s western Anbar province on January 13th. Photograph: Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

 

The US military resumed joint operations with Iraq on Wednesday, military officials said, ending a 10-day pause that began after a US air strike killed a top Iranian military commander in Baghdad. The decision to restart military operations came less than two weeks after Iraq’s parliament voted to expel all US forces from the country.

The government accused the United States of violating Iraqi sovereignty by carrying out air strikes in Iraq, including one January 3rd that killed Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani, a leader of Iraqi militia forces and eight other people.

Two US military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak about the missions to reporters, confirmed that the joint operations had restarted. They said the military wanted to resume operations against the Islamic State as soon as possible to blunt any momentum the group might have and to stifle any propaganda victory it might claim because the United States had suspended the operation.

It was unclear on Wednesday whether anyone in the Iraqi government approved the resumption of joint missions – it was the Americans who stopped them, not the Iraqis – and Iraqi officials could not be reached for comment. Iraq’s acting prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who has said that his government would comply with parliament’s order to expel American forces, seemed to soften his position Wednesday.

In a speech to his cabinet, he suggested that parliament’s decision might not be the final word, saying “If we reach the decision to get the forces out of Iraq, then this would be the decision of the Iraqi government.”

‘Appropriate timeline’

He also noted that if the government expelled the Americans, it would follow “an appropriate timeline”, suggesting that any departure might not be immediate. He also reminded the ministers that “Isis has begun to reorganise and plan invasions and attacks”.

Mr Abdul-Mahdi had asked secretary of state Mike Pompeo over the weekend to send delegates to Iraq to work out the details of a troop withdrawal, according to a statement released by his office. Mr Pompeo refused, saying the US mission in Iraq was to train Iraqi forces to fight Islamic State, and “we’re going to continue that mission”.

The state department said that the United States would only be willing to discuss “appropriate force posture in the Middle East”. Despite the Iraqi government’s moves toward expelling the Americans, some Iraqi security officials have opposed the idea, saying they were needed to help fight the remnants of Islamic State and prevent its resurgence, as well as to support coalition troops from other countries.

If the Americans and most other coalition militaries left, the Iraqis could continue to fight the extremists on their own but would likely be hampered by a lack of drone-based intelligence and air cover, according to senior coalition military officials.

Islamic State, which a few years ago controlled a large part of Iraq, no longer controls territory there but remains active in some pockets and claims a few Iraqi lives almost every week. Removing the US military from Iraq would take more than a vote in parliament.

According to US officials, it would require the Iraqi government to annul the agreements it has made allowing the American and coalition forces to train, advise and assist in the fight against Islamic State. – New York Times