ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Iranian-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah militia on Monday warned it might engage in armed confrontation with US forces in Iraq at any moment.
It is the second, if not the third warning issued by the Iranian-backed Shia militia against American troops in the country since the Iraqi government declared final victory over the Islamic State (IS) in late 2017.
There are over 5,000 US troops in Iraq. The US-led Coalition against IS on Monday stated its focus in Iraq would shift from combat operations to sustaining military gains against the extremist group.
The coalition statement revealed its troops would remain in Iraq as IS extremists “continue to pose a threat” to the country’s security and risk transition back into an insurgency.
“The Coalition will tailor its forces in consultation with the Iraqi partners to ensure the lasting defeat of [IS],” Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga, the coalition's director of operations, said.
The statement came the same day as an Iraqi official claimed the US would be reducing its presence in the country since the “battle against Daesh (IS) has ended.”
Jaafar Al-Husseini, spokesman for the Kata'ib Hezbollah, also known as the Hezbollah Brigades, “There is no stable Iraq with the presence of the Americans.”
Iraqi government officials have asserted on more than one occasion that the presence of US troops in the country came at the request of a US-led coalition against terrorism.
“The Americans did not come to Iraq at the request of the government,” Husseini said.
Baghdad says the US' presence is mainly focused on training and advising Iraqis.
Husseini said clashes with the Americans “may start at any moment ... This time the Americans will not be able to talk themselves out of it.”
The Hezbollah Brigades are one of the most prominent factions of the Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), formed three years ago following the emergence of IS in Iraq in 2014.
The Shia militia has close ties with Tehran, similar to Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba group, the closest armed faction to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Commander, Qassem Soleimani.
Militia groups have already threatened to target US forces, days after US air strikes targeted local police and tribal fighters in a friendly fire accident in Anbar last month.
Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led coalition, last year restored all territory which had fallen into the hands of IS in 2014 and 2015, including Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and self-proclaimed capital of the jihadist group.
Editing by Nadia Riva