Iraq parliament demands US troop ouster after Soleimani killing

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq’s parliament yesterday urged the government to oust thousands of American troops from the country, stepping up pressure over the United States (US) killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad.

US installations were also facing new military stresses, with missiles slamming into the Baghdad enclave where the US embassy is located and an airbase north of the capital housing American troops.

Ties have deteriorated after an American precision drone strike on the Baghdad international airport last Friday that killed Iran’s Major General Qasem Soleimani and top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned the US ambassador, while caretaker premier Adel Abdel Mahdi attended an extraordinary parliamentary session to slam the strike as a “political assassination.”

He joined 168 lawmakers – just enough for quorum in Iraq’s 329-seat parliament – to discuss the ouster of US troops.

File photo shows III Armored Corps Commanding General of United States (US) Army Lieutenant General Pat White and Commanding General for US Central Command General Kenneth F McKenzie Jr take part in a transfer of authority ceremony at Union III base in Baghdad. PHOTO: AP

Some 5,200 US soldiers are stationed across Iraqi bases to support local troops preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

They are deployed as part of the broader international coalition, invited by the Iraqi government in 2014 to help fight IS.

“The parliament has voted to commit the Iraqi government to cancel its request to the international coalition for help to fight IS,” speaker Mohammed Halbusi announced.

The cabinet would have to approve any decision but the premier had earlier indicated support for an ouster.

“We face two main choices,” he told Members of Parliaments (MPs), either immediately voting for foreign troops to leave or revisiting their mandate through a parliamentary process.

Hardline parliamentarians with ties to the Hashed al-Shaabi military force, which is close to Iran, had demanded a tougher decision calling for the immediate expulsion of all foreign troops.

No Kurdish and most Sunni MPs boycotted the session as they were more supportive of a US troop presence, seen as a counterweight to Iran.

They had been threatened by Hashed-linked MPs, who said they would be seen as having “betrayed” Iraq if they boycotted.

Tom Warrick, a former US official and current fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Soleimani and pro-Iran factions within the Hashed had long sought the US troops’ ouster.

“If US forces do end up withdrawing, it could grant Soleimani a post-humous victory,” Warrick told AFP.

As the session got under way, the US-led coalition announced it was suspending its Iraq operations due to deadly rocket attacks on their bases.