Pentagon: No changes for US troops following Green Zone protests in Baghdad
May 2, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has no plans to heighten security or move U.S. troops in Baghdad after protesters loyal to Shiite Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr breached the Green Zone over the weekend to demand political reform, Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday.
Hundreds of demonstrators on Saturday stormed the city’s Green Zone, a large protected swath of land that includes the U.S. and other embassies and the Iraq government’s ministries and parliament, to protest Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s inability to overhaul his cabinet and how Iraq’s parliament is selected, which al-Sadr’s forces and al-Abadi blame for contributing to the country’s political corruption.
By Sunday, protesters had pulled down portions of the tall concrete wall that separates the Green Zone from the rest of Baghdad. But, on al-Sadr’s orders, protesters had peacefully left the zone as of late Sunday, Reuters reported.
Despite the incursion, Davis said no changes are planned for U.S. troops deployed in Baghdad and the U.S. embassy was not at risk.
“They did not seem to be interested in us, and there was no indication that they were going anywhere near the embassy or where the international missions are there,” he said Monday at the Pentagon. “This is really focused on the parliament building.”
Still, the Green Zone security breach was the first since it was established shortly after U.S. forces took control of Baghdad in 2003. And the protest comes days after the United States had negotiated sending additional forces, attack helicopters and long-range ground artillery to contribute to the Iraqi army’s preparation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group.
The State Department will determine when the embassy would need to be evacuated or whether security changes are necessary, Davis said. So far, there has been no impact on the U.S. military’s operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq, he said.
Davis said the United States remains committed to supporting the Iraqi prime minister.
“We remain absolutely committed to the sovereignty of Iraq … and the democratically elected government that Abadi represents,” he said. The escalating protests over Abadi’s cabinet and the parliamentary structure “is domestic politics … we don’t see that as being a fundamental threat to the stable government of Iraq.”