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US-led coalition troops begin leaving Iraqi bases

US-led coalition troops begin leaving Iraqi bases following third attack in one week
3 min read
17 March, 2020
Just hours after an attack reportedly struck an Iraq base housing foreign forces, officials confirmed US-coalition troops began withdrawing from the country.
Iraq's parliament voted to kick out American forces [Getty]
The US-led coalition will redeploy hundreds of troops from bases in Iraq, coalition and US officials said on Tuesday, with one calling it a "historic" move.

"The coalition is re-positioning troops from a few smaller bases," said coalition spokesman Myles Caggins.

The first redeployment was taking place on Tuesday from Qaim, the western base along the border with Syria, a coalition official told AFP.

"A transfer ceremony is taking place today to hand over the facilities to Iraqi forces, and the intent is that all coalition troops will be leaving Qaim," the official said.

"It's historic," the official added, saying about 300 US-led coalition troops would be moved out of the base.

Some had already been redeployed to coalition positions in neighbouring war-ravaged Syria along with artillery, while others would be sent to other bases in Iraq or to Kuwait.

The announcement came hours after another rocket attack targeted an Iraqi base where foreign troops are located, the 24th such attack in less than six months and third in just one week.

Read more: ‘They’re the virus’: Iraq coronavirus outbreak refuels anti-government protests

The rockets slammed into the Besmaya base south of Baghdad late on Monday night, a statement by the military said, making no mention of casualties.

Spanish forces linked to the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, as well as NATO training forces, are present in Besmaya.

On March 11, a volley of rockets killed two US military personnel and a British soldier at the Taji airbase, which was hit again three days later.

The US responded with air strikes on five positions controlled by Kataeb Hezbollah, a Iran-backed group and member of the Hashd Al-Shaabi - or Popular Mobilisation Forces - military network.

The Hashd has been formally integrated into the Iraqi state's security forces but more hardline groups continue to operate independently.

The official denied that the redeployment was a response to a spike over the last week in rocket attacks targeting foreign troops stationed across Iraq.

Some 5,200 US forces are positioned across Iraq and form the bulk of the coalition set up in 2014 to help local forces battle the Islamic State jihadist group.

They are deployed at about a dozen bases in Iraq alongside local forces.

A US official told AFP that coalition troops would leave three bases. In addition to Qaim, troops at the Qayyarah and Kirkuk bases in northern Iraq were set to be withdrawn by the end of April.

While Qaim has not been hit by rockets, both Qayyarah and Kirkuk have faced heavy rocket fire in recent months.

"There was no trigger but the violence helped keep the (withdrawal) pace fast," the official added, saying overall troop numbers in Iraq would remain the same.

In January, Iraq's parliament voted to oust all foreign forces from the country after a US drone strike in Baghdad killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the Hashd's deputy chief, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.

In the aftermath of the coalition's retaliatory strikes this week, Iraqi President Barham Salih warned such repeated acts could turn the country into a failed state and revive the Islamic State group.

Meanwhile, Iraq's
 military warned of consequences in response to the attacks.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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