Iran-backed militias offer truce for US troop withdrawal from Iraq
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA AND SAMYA KULLAB | Associated Press | Published: October 11, 2020
BAGHDAD — Iraqi militias backed by Iran have agreed to a temporary halt on attacks targeting the American presence in Iraq on the condition that U.S.-led coalition troops withdraw from the country in line with a parliamentary resolution, three of the militia officials said Sunday.
The militia officials spoke to The Associated Press just hours after a roadside bomb targeted a convoy transporting equipment for the U.S.-led coalition on a highway south of Baghdad, damaging one vehicle, an Iraqi army statement said. The attack prompted questions over whether such a truce could hold across all militia factions.
Roadside bombs and, especially, rocket attacks targeting the U.S. Embassy — located inside the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad — have become frequent occurrences and have strained ties between Baghdad and Washington.
The militia factions offered a truce and will refrain from targeting the U.S. in Iraq, including the the U.S. Embassy, on the condition that American forces withdraw within an “acceptable time frame,” said Mohammed Mohie, a spokesman for the powerful Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah.
“If it does not withdraw, the resistance factions will resume their military activities with all the capabilities available to them,” he said.
Two other factions from different Iran-backed groups echoed Mohie’s comments, without specifying a length of the truce, and said it was open-ended. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give statements.
Iraqi lawmakers are set to vote in January on a nonbinding resolution to oust U.S.-led coalition troops in the country, following a Washington-directed drone strike that killed Iranian general Qassim Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis outside Baghdad’s international airport.
The militia factions’ comments indicate some deescalation following weeks of tensions. The Trump has administration has warned Iraq’s leadership it would close the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad if the militia groups were not contained. American officials have said that while it was a serious threat, it was not an imminent ultimatum. In September, the Trump administration shortened a crucial sanctions waiver required for Iraq to import Iranian energy.
The U.S. has blamed Iran-backed militia groups, in particular Kataib Hezbollah, for perpetrating attacks on the American presence in Iraq.
On Saturday, the Coordinating Body of the Iraqi Resistance — believed to include an array of Iran-backed militia groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat al-Nujaba — issued a statement announcing “the cessation of its operations against foreign, especially American forces and interests in Iraq.”
Mohie, the militia spokesman, said, “The truce came after major personalities intervened and mediated in order to persuade these factions to stop the bombing operations until the end of the American election. … These were messages that these personalities conveyed.”
Last week, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, held a meeting with Abu Fadak, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces and a commander of the Kataib Hezbollah. The PMF is a state-sanctioned institution encompassing an array of militia groups, some of which are Iran-backed.
The militias’ announced truce coincides with an apparent shift in U.S. rhetoric, after Iraqi officials said any U.S. Embassy closure would isolate Iraq from the world.
Following a call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last Saturday, Iraqi Finance Minister Fuad Hussein referred to the threat as an “initial decision,” and that both sides had discussed “various future possibilities” for diplomatic missions inside the Green Zone.
Playing down embassy closure threats that same day, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said it was not an official threat from the U.S. but an “annoyance,” in remarks to state television.