A member of the political bureau of Iraq’s anti-terror Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq group, which is part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi, says Washington is trying to prolong the military presence of US-led forces in Iraq under the excuse of an advisory role.
“The United States is seeking to continue its presence in Iraq under the pretext of what it calls a training and advisory role. Resistance fighters will continue their struggle as long as American occupation troops are present on the Iraqi soil,” Ahmed Abdel-Hussein said in an interview with Arabic-language al-Maalomah news agency on Thursday.
Abdul-Hussein said, “The [US President Joe] Biden administration is looking to extend the presence of US forces in Iraq,” adding that there are no categorical assurances from Washington that the forces will pull out of Iraq.
The PMU official pointed out that the United States is engaged in hidden agendas in order to keep a great bulk of its military forces in Iraq.
Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman of the Joint Operations Command, told the official Iraqi News Agency on Wednesday that US combat forces have withdrawn from the country, and only foreign advisors are present.
“The mission of foreign forces in Iraq has shifted from combat to advisory role as most of the existing combat forces have left before the specified deadline,” he added.
“Only military advisors have remained in Iraq, and their number is small,” Khafaji noted.
Last week, Qassim al-Araji, Iraq’s national security adviser, said that a final round of technical talks to formally end the US-led combat mission, which was purportedly formed to fight the Daesh terrorist group, had concluded.
“We are officially announcing the end of the coalition forces’ combat mission,” al-Araji wrote on Twitter, adding that the coalition would continue providing assistance, advice and training to Iraqi forces.
However, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the number of US troops in Iraq won’t change.
“Remember, this is a change in mission, right? Not necessarily a change in physical posture,” he said. “It’s not like today they snap the chalk line and all of a sudden there’s a massive change in the daily operations of our men and women over there.”
“There won’t be a dramatic shift from yesterday to tomorrow, based on how we’ve already been working ourselves into this new mission,” Kirby said.
There are about 2,500 US soldiers and another 1,000 coalition troopers currently based in Iraq. It is unclear how many will remain in the next phase of deployment in Iraq.
Anti-US sentiment has been growing in Iraq since last year’s assassination of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Units, along with the region’s legendary anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
They were targeted along with their companions on January 3, 2020, in a terrorist drone strike authorized by former US president Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport.
Two days after the attack, Iraqi lawmakers approved a bill that requires the government to end the presence of all foreign military forces led by the US.