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Six months of calm between US forces and Iraqi militias

Six months of calm as Iraqi militias halt attacks on US forces
3 min read
28 April, 2023
Iran-backed militias say their 'truce' with the US forces is not open-ended.
Thousands of Iraqis gathered in Baghdad on 24 January 2020 to protest against the presence of US troops in the country, responding to a call by influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. [Getty]

Iraq has witnessed an unprecedented period of calm after the Iran backed militias refrained from attacking the US forces in the country in the last six months. 

The unannounced truce between the militias and the US came with electing Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as prime minister by the Cooperation Farmwork - an umbrella coalition from the Iran-backed Shia parties and forces in Iraq. 

Before the formation of Sudani's cabinet, the US bases in Iraq as well as the convoys of the US and other coalition members were subject to daily attacks via drones and Katyusha missiles by pro-Iran militias known as the "Islamic resistance axis".

The United States has about 2,000 troops stationed in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces. NATO has several hundred troops there, also in a non-combat role. This includes the Ain Al-Asad base in Anbar province, Camp Victory near Baghdad international airport, and Harir airbase in Erbil, the capital city of the northern Kurdistan region.

"The resistance groups have given PM Sudani a period of time in order to rearrange the affairs in his cabinet, especially what are related to economic and services," Kadhim al-Fartusi, the spokesperson of Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) or (the Master of Martyrs Battalions) has told Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic language sister website.

According to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, KSS is "a splinter of Kataib Hezbollah that works directly with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and has a transnational focus on the shared regional agenda of the Iran-backed axis of resistance."

KSS is one of the main Shia groups that has announced its responsibility for several attacks on the US force in Iraq.
"The groups are waiting for Sudani to enact a binding decision by the Iraqi parliament to his government to oust all foreign forces, mainly the US, in Iraq," added al-Fartusi.

Iraq's parliament in March 2018 asked the Iraqi government to set a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops based in the country. Parliament decisions are not compulsory to the Iraqi government.

Al-Fartusi stressed that there are ongoing negotiations with Sudani on the dossier of removing foreign forces, cautioning that if the prime minister did not move to expel the forces "diplomatically" then "the current calm will not be an open-ended" and they are "ready to expel the US troops with force."

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"One of the main reasons why the pro-Iran militias were attacking the US as well as the coalition forces was that they were not in power," Awat Khairullah, a Kurdish political observer, told TNA. "Now when the CF runs the parliament and government, the militias have seized their attacks according to a secret pact with CF in order to let Sudani's cabinet succeed in fulfilling its program."

Khairullah also noted that the CF is under the observation of the US, the UK and Saudi Arabia to see if they can keep Iraq's stability, therefore, the CF is very keen to make Sudani's cabinet succeed.

The Biden administration is not ready to receive Sudani as there are several ministers in his cabinet who are considered to be affiliated with Iran-backed militias, and Sudani is expected to make a reshuffle in his cabinet early next month. However, it is not clear yet whether he replaces those ministers as per demands from the US officials. 

"I rule out the resumption of hostile actions by the Iraqi militias against the US forces because the CF's main goal is to prevent instability and obtain the support of the international actors, mainly the US," Khairullah clarified.