Iran-backed militias offer truce for US troop withdrawal

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BAGHDAD – Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have agreed to temporarily suspend attacks on the US presence in Iraq on the condition that US-led coalition troops withdraw from the country in accordance with a parliamentary resolution, said Sunday three militia leaders. Militia officials spoke to The Associated Press just hours after a roadside bomb targeted a convoy carrying supplies for the US-led coalition on a highway south of Baghdad, damaging a vehicle, according to a statement from the Iraqi army. The attack raised questions as to whether such a truce could apply to all factions of the militia.

Roadside bombs and in particular rocket attacks targeting the US Embassy – located inside the heavily fortified Green Zone of Baghdad – have become frequent and have strained the ties between Baghdad and Washington.

Militia factions have offered a truce and will refrain from targeting the United States in Iraq, including the American embassy, ​​on the condition that the American forces withdraw within an “acceptable time frame,” Mohammed Mohie said, a spokesperson for the powerful Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah. .

“If he does not withdraw, the resistance factions will resume their military activities with all the capacities at their disposal,” he said.

Two other factions from different Iran-backed groups echoed Mohie’s comments, without specifying the length of the truce, and said it was unlimited. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to make statements.

Iraqi lawmakers in January pass a non-binding resolution to oust US-led coalition troops in the country, following a Washington-led drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani and the Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis outside Baghdad International Airport.

Comments from militia factions indicate some de-escalation after weeks of tension. The Trump administration has warned Iraqi leaders that it will close the US embassy in Baghdad if the militias are not contained. US officials have said that while this is a serious threat, it is not an imminent ultimatum. In September, the Trump administration shortened a crucial waiver of the sanctions required for Iraq to import Iranian energy.

The United States accused Iranian-backed militias, particularly Kataib Hezbollah, of carrying out attacks against the American presence in Iraq.

On Saturday, the Iraqi Resistance Coordination Body – which would likely include a set of Iranian-backed militias such as Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat al-Nujaba – issued a statement announcing “the cessation of its operations. . against foreign forces and interests, especially Americans in Iraq. ”

Mohie, the militia spokesman, said: “The truce came after the intervention and mediation of leading figures to persuade these factions to stop the bombing until the end of the American elections. … These are the messages that these personalities conveyed. ”

Last week, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN envoy to Iraq, met with Abu Fadak, deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces and commander of Kataib Hezbollah. The PMF is a state-sanctioned institution encompassing a range of militias, some of which are backed by Iran.

The truce announced by the militias coincides with an apparent shift in US rhetoric, after Iraqi officials said any closure of the US embassy would isolate Iraq from the world.

Following an appeal with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last Saturday, Iraqi Finance Minister Fuad Hussein called the threat an “initial decision”, and that the two sides had discussed “various future possibilities” for diplomatic missions inside the green zone.

Downplaying threats to close the embassy on the same day, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said it was not an official threat from the United States but a “bore”, in remarks on state television.

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