Iraqi Kurdistan rejects calls for US troops to withdraw
Kurdistan’s regional government in Iraq opposes the departure of US-led coalition troops from Iraq, a senior Baghdad official has told The New Arab's Arabic-language site.
The development comes as the adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustapha Al-Kadhimi announced that a new round of strategic dialogue between the US and Iraq – which have focussed on the withdrawal of coalition troops – will be held soon, Rudaw reported earlier this week.
It also comes as tensions have risen sharply between Iraq's dominant Iran-aligned factions, who have led calls for coalition troops to withdraw, and Washington. On Sunday, President Joe Biden ordered strikes on fighters from two units of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces, the Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, near the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Kadhimi called those strikes a "clear violation" of Iraq's sovereignty.
The unnamed Kurdish official who spoke to The New Arab said that officials in the autonomous region have told their coalition counterparts that they want to carry on cooperating, regardless of Baghdad's position.
They described the Kurdish position as unanimous among the political leaders in the region, as well as political parties. The support was for the US and its coalition partners, including France, the UK and Australia, and sought their continued presence in the country in an advisory and training capacity.
The Kurdish position could reignite tensions between Baghdad and Erbil, which have been strained over the KRG's share of federal funds, as well as Kurdish oil sales and non-oil revenues.
The autonomous region has witnesses Turkish military incursions to combat the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organisation and has accused the Kurdish government of harbouring. At the same time, the region is threatened by Iran-backed militias, who are thought to be behind drone and rocket attacks on US-led coalition bases and assets.
Meanwhile, Qasem Al-Araji, Iraq's National Security Advisor, maintains his government will soon reach an agreement for a timeframe on the withdrawal of coalition troops from the country. Prime Minister Kadhimi planned Washington at the end of July to discuss bilateral ties where he is expected to finalise those plans.
Kifah Mahmoud, a former advisor to the KRG, told The New Arab that the political factions calling for the US to withdraw did not represent all Iraqis but represent Iranian interests, citing the country’s anti-government protest movement who reject those factions altogether.
Majed Shinkali, a former Kurdish MP, warned that the US withdrawal would embolden ISIS cells, particularly in the Nineveh, Diyala and Kirkuk provinces. He said that Iraqi and Kurdish security forces were still in need of training and advice from US and coalition troops.
Kati Al-Rikabi, a member of the Iraqi parliamentary security and defense committee, said Kadhimi's government would ignore the calls for coalition forces to remain in the country, saying that Iraq’s forces, backed by the PMU, were sufficient in defending the country from ISIS or any other threats.
Some 2,500 US troops are believed to be in Iraq, its lowest number since 2015. Thousands of troops have exited over the past year, with many bases closed.