ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Two months after the death of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, a top advisor to Iran’s Supreme leader told reporters in Baghdad on Sunday that Iran “appreciates” Iraqi efforts to expel US troops.
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Shamkhani arrived to Baghdad on Saturday in an official visit to discuss the formation of the next Iraqi cabinet with Iraqi president Barham Salih, Speaker of the parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi and Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
Shamkhani also met with Iraqi National Security Advisor, Falih al-Fayyadh on Sunday to discuss the cooperation between Iraq and Iran regarding security, political, social and health, as well as the future of the US troops in Iraq, according to Iranian state media outlet IRNA.
During a press conference on Sunday, Shamkhani told reporters that Iran appreciated “the efforts made by Iraqi people, government and parliament to expel American forces.”
The US has 5,200 troops in Iraq stationed at bases across the country to assist, advice, and train Iraqi and Peshmerga forces as part of the international coalition.
US troops were invited to Iraq by the Baghdad government in 2014 to help oust the Islamic State (ISIS) from Iraq’s northern cities.
The presence of these forces, however, has become increasingly contentious.
A December rocket attack by the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia on a Kirkuk military base killed a US contractor, prompting US attacks against five facilities belonging to the group in Iraq and Syria – killing at least 25 of its militants.
Iran retaliated by firing two dozen ballistic missiles at bases hosting US troops in Iraq. No US personnel were killed in the strikes, but dozens sustained “traumatic brain injuries”.
US-Iran hostilities on Iraqi soil culminated in the targeted drone assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a commander who spearheaded Iran’s military missions in the Middle East, and the deputy head of the Iran backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad on January 3.
The Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution on January 5 calling for the US to leave the country.
Iraq is now trying to reach a new arrangement with coalition forces whereby foreign troops are permitted to remain in Iraq, but under the name of NATO rather than the US.
Their role would be limited to training and advising, meaning they would no longer be permitted to carry out ground operations.
Shamkhani also met with the Iraqi intelligence chief, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, in which they discussed the expulsion of American forces in Iraq.
“Given the political and security conditions of Iraq, the role of intelligence and security bodies to manage the new conditions is of paramount importance,” Shamkhani said, according to IRNA.
The “countdown has started for expelling America from the region,” he added.
Al-Kadhimi is a potential nominee to become next Iraqi Prime Minister, after former communication minister, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi failed to form the cabinet.
Last week, Abu Ali al-Askari, spokesperson of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia which falls under the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) umbrella, branded the potential nomination of intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi for the Iraqi premiership as a “declaration of war”.
“He [Kadhimi] is one of those accused of helping the American enemy to assassinate top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and deputy head of Hashd al-Shaabi [PMF], Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, therefore his nomination is a declaration of war on the Iraqi people, and will burn the remaining stability in Iraq,” Askari tweeted on Monday.
His Twitter account has since been suspended.
The Iraqi National Intelligence Service defended itself against the accusations in a Tuesday statement, branding Kataib Hezbollah “outlaws”.