Posted on

US to withdraw troops from three Iraq bases amid growing tensions

The US Army is set to pull out of three military bases in Iraq as it scales back operations amid escalating tensions with Baghdad and Iran.

Troops will withdraw from al-Qaim and two smaller bases as part of a move to reduce the US presence in the country and safeguard military personnel.

A formal handover of the bases and military equipment to coalition forces is expected to take place this week.

It comes against a backdrop of intensified rocket attacks on foreign troops that has been blamed on Iranian-backed militias. The US also plans to withdraw from Qayara Airfield West, known as Q-West, and Kirkuk, but will retain five outposts in Iraq. A coalition statement said: “As a result of the success of Iraqi security forces in their fight against Isis [Islamic State], the coalition is re-positioning troops from a few smaller bases. 

“These bases remain under Iraqi control and we will continue our advising partnership for the permanent defeat of Daesh [Islamic State] from other Iraqi military bases.”

The pullout from al-Qaim would remove the only US outpost on the border between Syria and Iraq with the area now controlled by Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces and Iraqi troops. The town was one of the first in the country to fall to Islamic State in 2014 but was reclaimed by Iraqi soldiers in November 2017. The move comes amid worsening relations with both Tehran and Iraq after a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack in December. The US retaliated by launching a drone strike in Baghdad on the Iranian elite forces general Qasem Soleimani, killing him and Iraqi militia leader Mahdi al-Muhandis on January 3 in a strike that brought Washington and Tehran to the brink of conflict.

The killings led to a vote by Iraq’s parliament to expel all foreign troops from the country amid worsening relations between US and their coalition partner.

Last Wednesday two Americans and British Royal Army Medical Corps medic L-cpl Brodie Gillon were killed in a multiple rocket attack on the Taji airbase, near Baghdad. A second wave of 33 rockets hit on Saturday injuring dozens more. Iraqi media today reported a fresh attack on a base that hosts foreign troops, Basmaya camp, south of Baghdad, which has been a key coalition training base since 2015.

It also emerged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi to do more to protect coalition troops in the wake of the attacks. He  warned that the US would defend itself if attacked in the region, and later tweeted: “These actions will not be tolerated and the groups responsible must be held accountable by the government of Iraq.”

Source link