“I believe that going forward, they (Iraqis) going to want us to be with them,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command told reporters Tuesday after he met with Iraq’s new prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Baghdad.
Tensions rose between the US and Iraq in January after a US drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed Iran’s top anti-terror commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi trenchmate Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a commander of Iraq’s anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), known by the Arabic word Hashd al-Sha’abi, which was at the forefront of fight against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.
After the deadly attack, authorized by US President Donald Trump, Iraqi lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution to expel all US forces from the Arab country.
Baghdad-Washington relations, however, have improved since al-Kadhimi assumed office in May. There are now talks between the US and Iraq on the future bilateral ties in the midst of calls for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
McKenzie said, “Certainly we need some foreign presence in Iraq. I don’t know that it needs to be as big as it is now, because ultimately that’s going to be a political, not a military, decision. But I think the Iraqis know, welcome and value what we do for them now.”
“I don’t sense there’s a mood right now for us to depart precipitously. And I’m pretty confident of that,” the top US general added.
Iraqi legislator, Muhammad al-Baldawi, warned on Tuesday that the United States is fomenting a soft coup against the anti-terror PMU, saying Washington is trying to constrain the role of the anti-terror forces.
“America supports and sponsors terrorism in Iraq, elsewhere in the world and even on its soil in a bid to oppress its own nation. The US seeks to dissolve the PMU, constrain its role and pressure it as if a soft coup is underway in Iraq,” Baldawi, a member of the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance pointed out.
Late last month, a high-ranking official from the Hashd al-Sha’abi slammed an unprecedented raid by Iraqi forces on a PMU base in southern Baghdad, saying that the operation had been dictated by the US, and that there are foreign attempts to undermine the anti-terror PMU.
In March, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon had ordered a secret directive, which called on US military commanders to prepare a campaign against Kata’ib Hezbollah, which is part of the PMU.
But, US top commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Robert P. White, warned that such a campaign could be bloody and counterproductive, noting that the new military campaign would require that thousands more American troops be sent to Iraq.
The popular anti-terror group is a thorn in the side of the United States which is widely believed to be managing an array of militant groups, including Daesh, to advance its Israel-centric agenda in the region.
The US, backed by the UK, invaded Iraq in 2003 under the pretext that the former regime of Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons, however, were ever found in the country.
The invasion plunged Iraq into chaos and led to the rise of terrorist groups across the region. President Donald Trump had vowed to bring US troops home and halt what he calls America’s endless wars.
There are, however, between 5,000 and 6,000 occupying US troops in Iraq.