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Iraqi armed factions call meeting to begin anti-US fight

'We will wage a war against the American presence in all parts of the region'

By AFP - Jan 07,2020 - Last updated at Jan 07,2020

A protester holds an Iraqi flag and portraits of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani (left) and Iraq's Hashed Al Shaabi deputy chief Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis as she protests outside the US embassy in The Hague on Tuesday (AFP photo)

BAGHDAD — Iraqi armed factions called on Tuesday for an urgent meeting to face "the war against the resistance", after a US strike on Baghdad last week killed top Iranian and Iraqi commanders.

"We will regroup the forces of the resistance in a single entity to respond to Washington," said Nasr Al Shammary, deputy head of the Harakat Al Nujaba group.

Nujaba, backed by Iran and fiercely opposed to the United States, is one of the most hardline factions of Iraq's Hashed Al Shaabi military network, which has been incorporated into the state.

The Hashed's deputy chief, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, was killed in the American precision strike on Friday that also killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.

Soleimani was known as the "godfather" of Iran's allies abroad, who broadly identify as the "resistance axis".

“The American aggression against the Hashed Al Shaabi has marked the beginning of the war against the resistance,” Shammary said in his statement. 

The statement did not identify the factions invited but it was expected the Hashed’s pro-Iran factions and forces loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr would attend.

Sadr has reactivated his notorious Mahdi Army, the militia that fought US troops after their 2003 invasion, calling for the formation of “international resistance regiments”.

Qais Al Khazali, a paramilitary leader and bitter rival of Sadr’s, echoed his call and threatened the US that his forces would “turn the skies above you into hell”.

In his statement, Shammary said the “resistance” would respond across the region, and said his group was already in touch with Iran-backed Lebanese movement Hizbollah.

“We will wage a war against the American presence in all parts of the region that we can reach,” he said, describing the US embassy in Baghdad as a “den of spies”.

“Thousands of Marines are present in possible targets,” he said.

Iran has already vowed “vengeance” for Soleimani, who was mourned by unprecedented crowds across the country on Monday.

On Tuesday, thousands of Iraqis also accompanied a funeral procession that brought Muhandis’s remains to his native Basra, an oil-rich southern city, chanting “Death to America!”

The Hashed said his remains had been briefly taken to Iran for DNA testing to separate them from those of Soleimani as the US drone strike had dismembered their bodies.

Like other Shiite Muslims, Muhandis would ultimately be buried in the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf in what is known as the largest cemetery in the world.

Following his death, Iraqi parliamentarians voted in favour of ousting foreign forces.

The Pentagon admitted on Monday that a top US general had mistakenly informed the Iraqi government that his troops were preparing to withdraw.

US Brig. Gen. William Seely informed his Iraqi counterparts in a letter dated Sunday that American troops were preparing to leave Iraq.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” said the letter, whose authenticity was confirmed to AFP by both Iraqi and US defence officials.

Seely said the US-led coalition would “be repositioning forces”.

“In order to conduct this task, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner,” said the letter.

But Pentagon Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said on Monday the letter was a mere “draft” and “should not have been sent”.

“It was a mistake, an honest mistake, a draft unsigned letter, because we are moving forces around,” Milley told reporters in Washington.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the letter was “inconsistent” with Washington’s position and denied there had been a decision to leave Iraq.

Iraq’s premier Adel Abdel Mahdi confirmed on Tuesday that he had received the letter the US said was a draft letter describing steps its military would take to “move out” of Iraq.

Despite the Pentagon’s assertion that the letter was an unsigned draft version which had been mistakenly sent, the Iraqi premier said he had received signed and translated copies at 8:00pm local time (1700 GMT) Monday.

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