BAGHDAD (AP) — Joint military operations with the United States (US)-led coalition to counter the Islamic State (IS) group have resumed after a nearly three-week pause, an Iraqi military statement said.
Meanwhile, anti-government protesters called for one million Iraqis to take to the streets yesterday in what they said was a “last chance” for the protest movement to build on momentum gained after followers of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr packed up and left last week.
The pause in joint anti-IS operations came amid heightened tensions after a Washington-led airstrike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.
The statement said joint operations had resumed in light of the continued threat posed by IS. Militants belonging to the group are holed up in parts of northern Iraq.
The statement also implied that Baghdad was standing by intentions to reorganise Iraq’s military relationship with the US.
“In light of continued activities by the IS in many areas of Iraq and for the purpose of making use of the remaining time of the international coalition before organising a new relationship…it was decided to carry out joint actions,” the statement said.
The statement was issued by the office of the armed forces’ commander-in-chief. As Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi assumes that role.
The coalition paused operations in support of Iraqi forces in the fight against IS militants on January 5 after a US airstrike killed Iran’s elite Quds Force leader General Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on Iraq soil, sparking outrage among Iraqi officials.
Lawmakers passed a resolution to oust foreign troops from Iraq after the US strike. The coalition refocussed on protecting military personnel amid fears of an Iranian counter-attack.
Despite signs of de-escalation after Iran retaliated with a barrage of missiles on two Iraqi military bases hosting US troops that caused no fatalities, outgoing Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi has been vocal that American troops should withdraw and has said steps are being taken to move the process forward.
Activists said the aim of yesterday’s protest was to pressure President Barham Saleh to select a new candidate for prime minister after weeks of deadlock and a looming constitutional crisis.
Political blocs have been jockeying over the selection since Abdul-Mahdi resigned last December under pressure from demonstrations.
Saleh has given political blocs until today to select a candidate or else he would select one himself, he said in a statement on Wednesday.