U.S. Military Resumes Joint Operations With Iraq

U.S. Military Resumes Joint Operations With Iraq

BAGHDAD — The United States military resumed joint operations with Iraq on Wednesday, military officials said, ending a two-week pause that began when the American Embassy in Baghdad was attacked on New Year’s Day.

The decision to restart military operations came a little more than two weeks after Iraq’s Parliament voted to expel all American forces from the country. The government accused the United States of violating Iraqi sovereignty by carrying out airstrikes in Iraq, including one on Jan. 3 that killed Iran’s top military commander, a leader of Iraqi militia forces and eight other people.

Two American military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the missions to reporters, confirmed that the joint operations had restarted.

They said the military wanted to resume operations against the Islamic State as soon as possible to blunt any momentum the group might have and to stifle any propaganda victory it might claim because the United States had suspended the operation.

It was unclear on Wednesday whether anyone in the Iraqi government approved the resumption of joint missions — it was the Americans who stopped them, not the Iraqis — and Iraqi officials could not be reached for comment.

Iraq’s acting prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has said that his government would comply with Parliament’s order to expel American forces, seemed to soften his position on Wednesday.

In a speech to his cabinet, he suggested that Parliament’s decision might not be the final word, saying “If we reach the decision to get the forces out of Iraq, then this would be the decision of the Iraqi government.”

He also noted that if the government expelled the Americans, it would follow “an appropriate time line,” suggesting that any departure might not be immediate. He also reminded the ministers that “ISIS has begun to reorganize and plan invasions and attacks.”

Mr. Abdul Mahdi had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend to send delegates to Iraq to work out the details of a troop withdrawal, according to a statement released by his office.

Mr. Pompeo refused, saying the American mission in Iraq was to train Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State, and “we’re going to continue that mission.”

The State Department said that the United States would only be willing to discuss “appropriate force posture in the Middle East.”

Despite the Iraqi government’s moves toward expelling the Americans, some Iraqi security officials have opposed the idea, saying they were needed to help fight the remnants of the Islamic State and prevent its resurgence, as well as to support coalition troops from other countries.

If the Americans and most other coalition militaries left, the Iraqis could continue to fight the extremists on their own, but would likely be hampered by a lack of drone-based intelligence and air cover, according to senior coalition military officials.

The Islamic State, which a few years ago controlled a large part of Iraq, no longer controls territory there but remains active in some pockets and claims a few Iraqi lives almost every week.

Removing the United States military from Iraq would take more than a vote in Parliament. According to American officials, it would require the Iraqi government to annul the agreements it has made allowing the American and coalition forces to train, advise and assist in the fight against the Islamic State.

The coalition’s mission was suspended on Jan. 1 after a crowd of angry fighters for pro-Iranian militias stormed and defaced the American Embassy in Baghdad in response to American airstrikes against one of the militia groups, Kataib Hezbollah.

Two days later, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles into a convoy at the Baghdad airport, killing the Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy chief of a coalition of Iraqi militias, and eight other people.

That attack led to the vote by Iraq’s Parliament to expel American forces from the country and a counterstrike by Iran on two American military posts in Iraq last week.

Alissa J. Rubin reported from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.


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