Sadr says ready to work on expelling US troops
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Firebrand Iraqi cleric and influential politician Muqtada al-Sadr on Monday expressed his readiness to work with other factions to oust American forces following US airstrikes on Sunday on bases of an Iranian-backed Shia militia group, killing and wounding dozens of fighters.
On Sunday, US airstrikes targeted five outposts of the Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) paramilitaries, considered one of the most notorious groups within the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The US designated KH as a terrorist organization in 2009.
The operation, which reportedly killed at least 25 KH fighters and wounded upward to 50, came in response to continued rockets attacks against Iraqi military facilities housing US and Coalition troops with the latest one resulting in the death of an American civilian contractor.
US officials have repeatedly warned Iran and its proxies against targeting Iraqi facilities where American and Coalition troops and advisors are based. US representative for Iran, Brian Hook, has reportedly estimated that about 11 such attacks have taken place over the past month.
The office of top Iraqi cleric Ali al-Sistani was quick to condemn the attack, saying that the “illegal” acts of “some sides” – in reference to the attacks of the Shia militias – should not be used as justification to violate Iraq’s sovereignty.
The Iraqi government also denounced the attack and said in a statement that the escalation is forcing Baghdad to review its relationship with the US, which has 5,000 troops in Iraq as part of the anti-ISIS coalition.
“I am ready to expel” US forces using political and legal means, Sadr said in a statement on his official Twitter page, calling for a united front between various Iraqi political entities to act, while criticizing “irresponsible” elements of the Iraqi security forces, pointing at the PMF.
Sadr warned earlier in the day against the consequences of throwing Iraq into the escalating conflict between the United States and Iran following the strikes.
Although members of the PMF officially fall under the Iraqi security apparatus, many of them are seen as independent actors with repeated attempts by Baghdad to reign them in appearing to have yielded no results.
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On Monday, the commander of the KH group, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, warned US forces of a strong retaliation for the killing of his fighters. Muhandis is also the deputy chairman of the PMF.
Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has described the US strikes as “terrorist” attacks and stated that a response would be “the natural right” of the PMF.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany