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Iraq MPs vote to expel US troops

U.S. TARGETING DECISION-MAKERS … 52 IRAN SITES

An aerial view shows mourners attending a funeral ceremony for Gen Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran on Jan 5. (AP)

BAGHDAD, Jan 5, (AP): Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of US forces from the country in reaction to the American drone attack that killed a top Iranian general, raising the prospect of a troop withdrawal that could cripple the battle against the Islamic State group and allow a resurgence of the extremists.

Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent troops more than four years ago to help fight ISIS. The bill is nonbinding and subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister. But the vote was another sign of the blowback from the US airstrike Friday that killed Iranian Gen Qassem Soleimani and a number of top Iraqi officials at the Baghdad airport.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s proxy wars across the Mideast and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in roadside bombings and other attacks. Speaking to lawmakers in Parliament, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said that after the killing of Soleimani, the government has two choices: End the presence of foreign troops in Iraq or restrict their mission to training Iraqi forces. “As a prime minister and supreme commander of the armed forces, I call for adopting the first choice,” Abdul-Mahdi said.

Resigned
Abdul-Mahdi resigned last year in response to the anti-government protests that have engulfed Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Political factions have been unable to agree on a new prime minister, and Abdul-Mahdi continues in a caretaker capacity.

Asked shortly before the parliamentary vote whether the US would comply with an Iraqi government request for American troops to leave, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not answer directly. “We’ll watch. We’re following very closely what’s taking place in the Iraqi Parliament,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“It is the United States that is prepared to help the Iraqi people get what it is they deserve and continue our mission there to take down terrorism from ISIS and others in the region.” A pullout of the estimated 5,200 US troops could not allow ISIS to make a comeback but could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq. US Sen Lindsey Graham, R-SC, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News that the parliamentary vote is “a bit concerning.”

“The Iranian government is trying to basically take over Iraq’s political system. Iran is bribing Iraqi politicians. To the Iraqi people, do not allow your politicians to turn Iraq into a proxy of Iran,” he said. The attack that killed Soleimani has dramatically escalated regional tensions and raised fears of outright war. Amid Iran’s threats of vengeance, the US-led military coalition in Iraq announced Sunday it is putting the fight against Islamic State militants on hold to focus on protecting its troops and bases. The coalition said it is suspending the training of Iraqi forces and other operations in support of the battle against ISIS.

Also, the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group vowed to end the US military’s presence in the Middle East, saying US bases, warships and soldiers are now fair targets. “The suicide attackers who forced the Americans to leave from our region in the past are still here and their numbers have increased,” Nasrallah said.

It was not clear which suicide bombings Nasrallah was referring to. But a 1983 attack on a US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killed 241 US servicemen and led President Ronald Reagan to withdraw all American forces from the country. Nasrallah spoke from an undisclosed location, and his speech was played on large screens for thousands of Shiite followers in southern Beirut, interrupted occasionally by chants of “Death to America!” The comments were Nasrallah’s first since Soleimani’s killing.

The majority of about 180 legislators present in Parliament voted in favor of the troop-removal resolution. It was backed by most Shiite members of parliament, who hold a majority of seats. Many Sunni and Kurdish legislators did not show up for the session, apparently because they oppose abolishing the deal. “The government should work on ending the An aerial view shows mourners attending a funeral ceremony for Gen Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran on Jan 5. (AP) presence of all foreign forces,” Parliament Speaker Mohamed a-Halbousi said after the vote.

Iraqi officials have decried the killing of the general a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Abdul- Mahdi called it a “political assassination.” Killing Iran’s most powerful general marked a turning point in US Mideast policy by elevating a conflict that had previously been more of a shadow war, and by putting in doubt the Pentagon’s ability to keep troops in Iraq. More broadly, the killing appears to have lessened chances that President Donald Trump will achieve the central goal of his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran: to compel its leaders to negotiate a new, broader nuclear deal.

The administration also faces troubling questions about the legality of the Soleimani killing, its failure to consult Congress in advance, and the prospect of plunging America into a new Mideast war.

Tehran abandons N-deal
Iran’s state television reported that the country will no longer abide by any of the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal. The announcement came Sunday night after another Iranian official said it would consider taking even-harsher steps over the US killing of Soleimani on Friday in Baghdad. State TV cited a statement by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s administration saying the country will not observe limitations on its enrichment, the amount of stockpiled enriched uranium as well as research and development in its nuclear activities. It did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog observing Iran’s program, could not be immediately reach for comment. Pompeo said Sunday the US strategy in countering Iran is to target the country’s “actual decision- makers” rather than to focus on Iranian proxy forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Pompeo was explaining US strategy in the aftermath of the US drone strike that killed Iran’s most powerful general, Soleimani, who was mastermind of the country’s military operations outside Iran.

That killing has sent shock waves across the Middle East, with expectations that Iran will make good on its threat to strike back, with unpredictable consequences for the US and the rest of the world. Pompeo spoke on ABC’s “This Week” amid rising uncertainty about next steps in the US-Iran crisis and the breadth of its ramifications.

The US acknowledged an attack Sunday by an al-Qaeda affiliate on a Kenyan airfield used by American military forces. It was not immediately clear whether there were US casualties. Pompeo strongly criticized the Iran policy of the Obama administration, saying it fruitlessly focused on Iranían proxies rather than on Iran itself.

He said the US had previously sought to “challenge and attack everybody who was running around with an AK-47 or a piece of indirect artillery. We’ve made a very different approach.

We’ve told the Iranian regime, ‘Enough. You can’t get away with using proxy forces and think your homeland will be safe and secure.’ We’re going to respond against the actual decision-makers, the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In that context, Pompeo said that if the US military were to strike inside Iran, in the event Iran retaliated against America for the Soleimani killing, those strikes would be legal under the laws of armed conflict. “We’ll behave inside the system,” Pompeo said. “We always have and we always will.” Pompeo was responding to a question about President Trump’s assertion Saturday on Twitter that the United States has 52 Iranian targets in its sights, “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” Targeting cultural sites is a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites. The UN Security Council also passed unanimously a resolution in 2017 condemning the

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