Iraqi officials condemn US killing of commanders; Sadr, Khazali put militias on ‘alert’
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Top Iraqi officials condemned on Friday the US killings of an infamous Iranian general, Qasim Soleimani, and an Iraqi militia commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in a drone strike outside Baghdad International Airport. In addition, senior Iraqi figures aligned with Iran increased their call to expel US troops from Iraq, while prominent militia commanders put their fighters on “high alert,” amid fears of further escalation.
At the same time, Iraq’s leading Shi’a cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the killings, saying in a Friday sermon that they were leading Iraq “toward a very difficult situation.” He called for “restraint,” as Iraq passes through “the most dangerous juncture” following the US drone strike.
Iraq’s Prime Minister, President, and Parliament Speaker Condemn Attack
Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi, said that the assassination of “leadership figures from Iraq or a brother country on Iraqi soil was a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a blatant attack on the dignity of the nation.” He warned that the killings were “a dangerous escalation” which “could lead to war in Iraq, the region and the world.”
Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the US attack as an act of “aggression,” but, like Sistani, also called for calm to avoid threatening “the peace of the region and Iraq.”
Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi issued a statement condemning the attack as a “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” while complaining it was “carried out without consultations with Baghdad.” He called on the Iraqi government to take appropriate measures to prevent future such incidents.
The Iraqi military—its Joint Operations Command—also condemned the US operation, describing it as “cowardly” and a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty of Iraq and clear departure from the tasks of the American forces designated to combat ISIS and provide support and backing to Iraqi forces.”
Abdul Mahdi stated further that he had called for an extraordinary parliamentary session “to decide the official Iraqi position and take legislative decisions and appropriate necessary measures in a manner that preserves the dignity, security, and sovereignty of Iraq.”
Calls to Expel US Troops
While senior Iraqi politicians—especially those who became entrenched in government, as Iranian influence grew—have repeatedly called for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq, no such bill has yet been presented to lawmakers for a vote.
After Soleimani’s death, Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the parliamentary Fatah Alliance, renewed calls to expel US forces. “We appeal to all national forces to unite their ranks in order to remove the foreign forces whose presence has become futile for Iraq” and whose continued presence “means more Iraqi bloodshed,” he said.
“I invite my brothers in parliament to attend and take their bold decision to remove foreign forces from Iraq, because their presence only threatens Iraqis,” Amiri continued.
Amiri heads the Badr Organization, which is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), of which Muhandis was deputy chief. Lawmakers have reportedly voted to name Amiri as Muhandis’ successor.
On Friday, the firebrand Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, issued a statement, denouncing the killing of Soleimani and describing the US as “global arrogance.” However, Sadr did not mention Muhandis, and there was apparently some tension between the two.
Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, which, like Amiri’s group, is also aligned with Iran, denounced the incident as “a great folly and a crime with unforeseeable consequences.”
“We call on the Iraqi government to take the steps available to deal with this dangerous event and to reconsider its relations with America.” al-Dawa stated.
Yet even as anti-American rhetoric has increased in the wake of the assassinations, it remains unclear whether parliament will actually vote on the continued presence of US troops, who continue to aid Iraqi forces in the ongoing fight against the so-called Islamic State.
Militias on ‘High Alert’
In apparent preparation for a potential outbreak of conflict, Sadr ordered his armed followers, including the Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army), to “be prepared to protect Iraq,” even as he also called on all sides to act with “wisdom and shrewdness,” according to a Reuters report.
Qais Khazali, the leader of another PMF faction, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, also ordered his militiamen to “be on high alert” after Muhandis’ death.
Khazali is a close ally of Iran and during the US-led war in Iraq, he was involved in hostage-taking and killing US troops. He now has 15 seats in parliament and is aligned with Amiri’s bloc.
“All fighters should be on high alert for the upcoming battle and great victory,” Khazali said on Friday. “The price for the blood of the martyred commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is the complete end to the American military presence in Iraq,” Reuters reported.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie