BAGHDAD — Pro-Iran factions in Iraq will cease targeting US troops, but their proposed truce is only temporary and depends on Washington completing a full military withdrawal by year end, a key lawmaker told AFP.
Around 90 rocket attacks have targeted the US in Iraq since January, including its forces housed in Iraqi bases and its embassy in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, with several claimed by pro-Iran factions. The most prominent pro-Iran factions declared a truce from Sunday.
“The truce isn’t open-ended,” Ahmed al-Assadi, a lawmaker representing the political arm of pro-Iran armed coalition Hashed al-Shaabi, told AFP late Wednesday.
“In my estimation, at its earliest it could end around the US elections,” scheduled to take place on November 3, “or it could last until the end of the year,” he added.
In early January, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel American soldiers from its soil two days after a US drone strike killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
“A truce lasting longer than the end of the year doesn’t make much sense. We’re only giving the government more time to negotiate the withdrawal,” Assadi added.
The Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries were established in 2014 from mostly-Shiite armed groups and volunteers to fight the Islamic State jihadist group.
Hashed has formally been part of Iraq’s armed forces since then, holding political representation in parliament, but it also spawned several armed groups ideologically affiliated with it.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the most radical pro-Iran armed faction in the country, has consistently been blamed by Washington for the rocket attacks.
But other smaller and newer groups have taken responsibility for the strikes including one targeting a logistics convoy heading to a US base on Sunday in Diwaniyah, in the country’s south.
Another Hashed source told AFP that the current fragile truce was the result of discussions between pro-Iran factions, the government and foreign missions in Baghdad.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi’s government — seen as friendly to the US — has said recently US troops might need up to three years to withdraw.
The US deployed thousands of troops to Iraq in 2014 to lead a military intervention against IS.
By late 2018, there were an estimated 5,200 troops still stationed in Iraq, according to US officials.
On Thursday, the US shut down Kataeb Hezbollah’s website with a “seizure warrant” message from the Commerce Department emblazoned on its page.
Earlier in the week, the al-Etejah and al-Nujaba media channels were also blocked by the US government.
They are channels for factions composed of Iraqi fighters armed and financed by Iran with affiliations to Hashed.
Some of the fighters are operating in support of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, alongside Lebanon’s Hezbollah.