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Iraq: PM says government to start process of removing US-led forces

Announcement follows anger after US drone strike killed a leader of an Iran-backed armed group in Baghdad
A member of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces paramilitaries holds a sign identifying one of the group's slain members during a funeral procession at the PMF headquarters in Baghdad on 4 January 2024 (AFP)
A member of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces holds a sign honouring one of the group's slain members at a funeral procession in Baghdad, on 4 January 2024 (AFP)

Iraq's prime minister said on Friday that the government will put together a bilateral committee to prepare for the end of a US-led coalition's mission in the country. 

The announcement comes a day after a US drone strike killed the leader of an Iran-backed armed group in Baghdad. 

The Pentagon confirmed on Thursday that it carried out the strike which killed Mushtaq Jawad Kazim al-Jawari, a leader of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, which forms part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella group of paramilitaries. 

"We are setting the date for the start of the bilateral committee to put arrangements to end the presence of the international coalition forces in Iraq permanently," Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said, according to a statement from his office published on the social media platform X.

The US has 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria to assist with efforts to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State (IS) group, which took over large areas of both countries in 2014 before being defeated by international forces.

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"We stress our firm position in ending the existence of the international coalition after the justifications for its existence have ended," Sudani said. 

The prime minister made the comments during a memorial event marking the fourth anniversary of the US killing of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the former deputy head of the PMF who was killed in a US drone strike alongside Iranian general Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad airport in January 2020.

"The Popular Mobilisation Forces represent an official presence affiliated with the state, subject to it, and an integral part of our armed forces," the prime minister said.

'We condemn the attacks targeting our security forces, which go beyond the spirit and text of the mandate that created the international coalition'

– Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani

"We condemn the attacks targeting our security forces, which go beyond the spirit and text of the mandate that created the international coalition.

"We affirm the government's ability and willingness to take appropriate decisions to preserve Iraq's sovereignty, security, and stability."

The Pentagon said on Thursday that Jawari was involved in planning and carrying out attacks on American personnel.

Iranian-backed Iraqi groups have claimed responsibility for carrying out over 100 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria since mid-October, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.  

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba also claimed responsibility for a drone strike in the southern Israeli city of Eilat on 22 December.

The presence of American forces has long prompted a backlash in Iraq. Following the assassination of Muhandis in 2020, Iraq's parliament passed a resolution calling for the expulsion of foreign troops in the country. 

In January 2023, however, Sudani defended the presence of US troops and underlined the need for international support against IS. 

The killing of Jawari came two days after a suspected Israeli air strike assassinated senior Hamas member Saleh al-Arouri in the Lebanese capital Beirut and a week after Israel killed senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps member Sayyed Razi Mousavi in Syria.

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