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Iraq restates call for removal of US troops following assassination of militia leader

A US strike in Baghdad killed at least three people, including Kataib Hezbollah commanders blamed for attacks on American interests
The remains of a vehicle that was hit by a drone strike in Baghdad on 7 February (AFP/Murtaja Lateef)

Iraq has reiterated its call to end the US military presence in the country following the death of a high-ranking militia commander in a "unilateral strike” in Baghdad.

The US strike killed at least three people, including senior Kataib Hezbollah commanders Abu Baqir al-Saadi and Arkan al-Alaywi. Video footage of the strike site in eastern Baghdad showed an SUV engulfed in flames. 

The US said the Kataib Hezbollah commander killed in Wednesday’s strike was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region".

Wednesday's attack provoked an outcry in Baghdad, with the government again promising to remove US forces from Iraq in response.

"By this act, the American forces jeopardise civil peace, violate Iraqi sovereignty, and disregard the safety and lives of our citizens. Even more concerning is that the coalition consistently deviates from the reasons and objectives for its presence on our territory," said Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasool in a statement.

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"This trajectory compels the Iraqi government more than ever to terminate the mission of this coalition, which has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict."

The US has 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria to assist with efforts to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State (IS) group, which took over large areas of both countries in 2014 before being defeated by international forces.

'By this act, the American forces jeopardise civil peace, violate Iraqi sovereignty, and disregard the safety and lives of our citizens'

- Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasool

Iranian-backed Iraqi groups have claimed responsibility for carrying out over 100 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria since mid-October, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.  

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba also claimed responsibility for a drone strike in the southern Israeli city of Eilat on 22 December.

The presence of American forces has long prompted a backlash in Iraq.

Iraq's parliament passed a resolution calling for the expulsion of foreign troops in the country following the US drone strike assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander, Qassim Soleimani, and Iraqi deputy chief of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, Abu Mahdi Muhandis, in 2020.

In January 2023, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani defended the presence of US troops and underlined the need for international support against IS.

However, in January this year, following dozens of attacks against US forces in Iraq by pro-Iran groups, and US strikes against the same Iraqi militias, Sudani stated that US forces should leave the country in a negotiated withdrawal.

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