Expelling US troops: Iraq’s resistance efforts gain steam in Baghdad

As the Iraqi Resistance continues to pressure the US to halt support for Israel’s war on Gaza, Baghdad – and Moscow – align closer with their agenda to expel US troops from Iraq.

Surveillance devices on a local Baghdad thoroughfare captured on camera the assassination of an Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades leader, Abu Baqir al-Saadi, in a 7 February US missile attack. The images show a missile piercing the roof of his vehicle, then deviating to the right of Al-Baladiyat street, leaving a wake of flames in its incendiary path.

Against the backdrop of the widening, US-backed and armed Israeli war on Gaza, the US airstrikes against Iraq and Syria were meant to deliver a strong message of deterrence to Iran’s allies in the Axis of Resistance, who are targeting US military interests in West Asia in response to the carnage in Gaza.

But the strikes have instead served mainly to embarrass the Iraqi government and its domestic allies, prompting a reevaluation of the country’s relationship with Washington and reviving calls for an end to the US military presence in Iraq.

Despite a steady stream of US threats and intimidation tactics employed to deter the Iraqi resistance since late last year, these factions have incrementally increased and expanded their engagement in the region-wide war, driven by their commitment to the Palestinian resistance and its liberation goals. The Iraqi groups have a specific goal: pressure Washington until it forces a Gaza truce – a strategic target that reflects the unity of purpose among the resistance factions in Iraq and the region.

Speaking to The Cradle, a senior leader of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI) sheds light on the significance of the Hamas-led Al-Aqsa flood operation launched on 7 October 2023. That event, he says, is viewed as a game-changer by Palestinian resistance factions, and has sent shockwaves through the corridors of power in Tel Aviv, Washington, and allied capitals.

The operation is seen as a historical process challenging the status quo of the past seven decades and redefining the social, security, and military dynamics in the region, the source explains.

‘Unity of Fronts’: putting theory into practice

Barely two weeks after Al-Aqsa Flood and its aftermath, The Cradle’s Iraq correspondent posited “Will Yemen and Iraq join Palestine’s Al-Aqsa Flood?” At the time, it was noted that any potential involvement of Resistance Axis members other than Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the war “would likely materialize in the form of drone and missile attacks targeting specific objectives, as per the Resistance Axis’ strategic convergence in the Unity of Fronts.”

The “Red Sea crisis” that unfolded on the Ansarallah-led Yemeni front, in addition to scores of Iraqi resistance attacks against US bases in Iraq and Syria since October seem to confirm this hypothesis.

In Iraq’s case, the greatest military burden was assumed by four of the resistance factions identified by Kataib Hezbollah Secretary General Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi: his own group Kataib Hezbollah, Harakat al-Nujaba, Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, and Ansarallah al-Aufiaa. As one IRI official tells The Cradle:

“The fronts are opened at the discretion of the leaders (of these groups) themselves, based on religious, ideological, and moral commitments stemming from the nature of the Iraqi character in the first place.”

Over the past few months, the IRI has demonstrated its versatility by employing a variety of tactics and weaponry in around 188 separate military operations against US targets. These range from missile strikes on US bases in Iraq to drone attacks against US occupation forces in Syria, and even include the targeting of distant Israeli territories such as Ashdod, Haifa, and the occupied Golan Heights.

An official source in the IRI confirms to The Cradle that “We bombed with ballistic missiles American bases, even those in Iraq, and this was not limited to distant targets in the depth, or in the occupied territory.”

However, as tensions escalated, strains in the relationship between Baghdad and Washington became palpable. The Iraqi government found itself caught between the embarrassment of complicity and the challenge of maintaining control over security affairs. Even some of the resistance factions themselves felt the squeeze of external pressures, notably Kataib Hezbollah, who on 31 January announced a temporary suspension of operations against US forces and Israeli targets.

The halt came in the immediate aftermath of the killing of three US soldiers in Tower 22 along the Jordanian-Syrian border, in an Iraqi resistance operation unprecedented in its depth which was viewed as a direct challenge to Washington’s perceived invincibility. As expected, the operation caused a spike in tensions, causing some ferocious shuttle diplomacy in the following days and provoking a strong, disproportionate US military response.

Economic and strategic considerations

For factions like Kataib Hezbollah and Al-Nujaba, the decision to suspend operations was a calculated move to gauge Washington’s response. Yet, the US military’s targeted assassination of Kataib Hezbollah commander Abu Baqir al-Saadi caught them off guard, eliciting a sharp condemnation of the US attack from Baghdad. Saadi’s faction, it should be noted, is part of the Popular Mobilization Units that defeated ISIS, and is therefore under the umbrella of the Iraqi armed forces.

This time, the Iraqi government had no choice but to side with the resistance, while the IRI issued a stern warning to the US in which it signaled a return to operations.

US Vice President Kamala Harris then extended an invitation to Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to visit Washington. A postponed September 2023 White House visit to meet US President Joe Biden makes Sudani, notably, the only Iraqi prime minister yet to visit the US in an official capacity.

Following the Iraqi prime minister’s return from Munich earlier in February, US Ambassador to Iraq Elena Romansky met with him to coordinate the agenda for his upcoming visit to the US and ensure alignment on the topics to be discussed.

Romansky stated that “the leaders also discussed the importance of continuing the US-Iraq Higher Military Commission, which will enable the transition to an enduring bilateral security partnership between the United States and Iraq and is the natural next step to build on the very successful collaboration of the past 10 years between Iraq and the Defeat ISIS coalition.”

What cannot be ignored, however, is that these diplomatic initiatives followed a series of coercive measures by the US Treasury to diminish the value of the Iraqi dinar against the US dollar. While Iraq – both officially and among its various political factions – insists that leveraging the volume of Iraqi oil exports as a bargaining chip in the global market is an ineffective negotiating tool, there are those who anticipate seizing the opportunity of market scarcity to increase their share by two million barrels.

Sudani mission is a difficult one. He must hammer out a solution that fulfills his government’s commitment to remove foreign military forces forces from Iraqi soil without triggering negative US repercussions.

Baghdad backs the resistance

According to leaks, the Iraqi prime minister reportedly reached an agreement with the IRI to suspend its military operations against US bases in order to facilitate his negotiations for the complete withdrawal of international coalition forces from Iraq.

Yet, any decision in this regard risks eliciting a negative response from Washington, which brandishes an ever-present arsenal of pressure tactics. This is particularly concerning given that Iraqi oil revenues are still required to pass through the US Federal Bank before being released to Baghdad.

Members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives are actively working to proceed with a law to remove foreign forces from Iraq, with majority representation from Shia-dominated central and southern Iraq. However, Sunni factions remain ambiguous in their stance toward the coordination framework blocs’ efforts to enact such legislation. In addition, Kurdish parties, notably the Kurdistan Democratic Party, vehemently oppose any consideration of US military withdrawal from Iraq.

In response to these dynamics, the Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed Moscow’s willingness to bolster Iraqi forces following the departure of unwanted foreign troops. The Russian offer has compounded the pressure on Washington, prompting a reassessment of the waning US strategic position in West Asia.

Researchers close to Iraq’s Coordination Framework coalition, a collective of Iraqi political parties that played the key role in the formation of Sudani’s government, suggest that this development – coupled with the military pressure exerted by the resistance – has strengthened the official Iraqi stance and compelled the US to engage with and heed the demands of the Iraqi cabinet.

As the resistance factions step up their military operations in response to the US-backed Israeli assault of Gaza, it becomes clear that there is a growing synergy between the Iraqi government and the Iranian-supported elements of the armed forces.

This alignment forms part of a broader regional resistance faction, with a strategic focus on not only the liberation of Palestine, but also the safeguarding of Iraq’s sovereignty in its entirety.

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