US storing offensive weapons at Iraq's Ain al-Asad base in breach of 2021 agreement, military official says
The US is storing offensive military weapons at a base in Iraq, despite an agreement meant to see the US transition from a combative to a training and advisory role almost two years ago, a senior Iraqi military official has said.
The source told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that he had seen weaponry including Black Hawk and Apache helicopters present during a recent visit to the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq by Iraqi military officials.
"The recent visit of the military delegation to Ain al-Asad base revealed the presence of offensive equipment and weapons," the official reportedly said.
"This is contrary to the agreement concluded in 2021, which allowed the presence of defensive weapons with the advisory task force."
The military delegation visited the base in Anbar province in western Iraq on 26 August, according to Iraqi state media.
Also at the base were an advanced radar system and monitoring equipment, according to the official, who Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said had requested anonymity.
The US and Iraq agreed in 2021 that all US combat troops would leave the country by the end of that year, and that the US role in Iraq would be limited to a training and advisory one. Some 2,500 US troops remain in Iraq for this purpose, according to Washington.
The New Arab contacted the US Department of Defence to ask whether offensive weapons are being held at the base, but has yet to receive a response by the time of publication.
The Iraqi military official claimed that Iraq intends to press the US on the issue, especially considering US diplomatic and military movements in neighbouring Syria.
Eastern Syria has seen a surge in violence in recent weeks, with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) clashing with Arab tribes in the area.
The clashes were sparked by the SDF's detention on 27 August of Ahmad al-Khabil, also known as Abu Khawla, the head of the Deir Al-Zour Military Council, which is affiliated with the SDF.
The SDF accused Khabil of communicating with the Syrian regime, and of alleged drug trafficking and mismanagement leading to an uptick in IS activities. Angry fighters loyal to Khabil launched attacks on the SDF that spiralled into clashes in several villages and towns that have killed scores of fighters and civilians.
US officials have met in the last few days with both the SDF and Arab tribal leaders in a bid to mediate their conflict.
The US has long backed the SDF, leading an international coalition that partnered with local forces including the SDF to fight the Islamic State group that swept through and seized through swathes of northern and eastern Syria in 2014.
The extremist group were territorially defeated in March 2019, but remnants of it remain and conduct attacks on the myriad of forces present in the area.
On Monday, SDF commander Mazloum Abdi said that the US-led coalition had provided the group with air support against fighters in Deir al-Zour.
Mahdi Taqi, a member of the Iraqi parliamentary committee on security and defence, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that official Iraqi reports had on multiple occasions found that bases hosting US and other foreign troops contain offensive weapons.
"Foreign forces in Iraq possess military weapons and aviation, and we do not know why," Taqi said.