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Iraq Seeks Quick Exit of US Forces but No Deadline Set, PM Says

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

Iraq wants a quick and orderly negotiated exit of US-led military forces from its soil but has not set a deadline, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said, describing their presence as destabilizing amid regional spillover from the Gaza war.

Longstanding calls by mostly Shi’ite Muslim factions, many close to Iran, for the US-led coalition’s departure have gained steam after a series of US strikes on Iran-linked militant groups that are also part of Iraq’s formal security forces.

Those strikes, which came in response to dozens of drone and missile attacks on US forces since Israel launched its Gaza campaign, have raised fears that Iraq could once again become a theater for regional conflict.

“There is a need to reorganize this relationship so that it is not a target or justification for any party, internal or foreign, to tamper with stability in Iraq and the region,” Sudani told Reuters in an interview in Baghdad on Tuesday.

Giving the first details of his thinking about the future of the coalition since his Jan. 5 announcement that Iraq would begin the process of closing it down, Sudani said the exit should be negotiated under “a process of understanding and dialogue.”

“Let’s agree on a time frame [for the coalition’s exit] that is, honestly, quick, so that they don’t remain long and the attacks keep happening,” he said, noting that only an end to Israel‘s war on Gaza would stop the risk of regional escalation.

“This [end of the Gaza war] is the only solution. Otherwise, we will see more expansion of the arena of conflict in a sensitive region for the world that holds much of its energy supply,” Sudani said.

A US withdrawal would likely increase concern in Washington about the influence of arch foe Iran over Iraq’s ruling elite. Iran-backed Shi’ite groups gained strength in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion.

The Pentagon on Monday said it had no plans to withdraw US troops, which are in Iraq at the invitation of its government.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, has been among the fiercest critics of Israel‘s Gaza campaign against the Hamas terror group, falsely describing it as a textbook case of genocide, claims Israel vehemently denies.

But Iraq’s government has repeatedly also said the attacks by armed groups on foreign forces and diplomatic missions in Iraq were illegal and went against the country’s interests, and says it has arrested some perpetrators and prevented attacks.

At the same time, Baghdad has condemned US strikes on bases used by the groups, as well as a recent strike against a senior militia commander in the heart of Baghdad, as grave violations of sovereignty.

Critics say the armed groups, including Kataeb Hezbollah and Haraket Hezbollah al-Nujaba, use their status as members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state security force that began as a grouping of militias in 2014, as a cover.

When striking at US forces, they operate outside the chain of command under the banner of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq; when the US retaliates, they mourn their losses as members of the PMF and reap the rewards of rising anti-US sentiment.

US-led forces invaded Iraq and toppled former leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, withdrawing in 2011 but then returning in 2014 to fight Islamic State as part of an international coalition. The US currently has some 2,500 troops in Iraq.

With Islamic State territorially defeated in 2017 and on the demise ever since, Sudani said the coalition’s raison d’etre had long-since ended.

YEARS IN THE MAKING

But calls for the coalition’s withdrawal have been around for years and, so far, little has changed. Iraq’s parliament in 2020 voted for its departure days after the US assassinated top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militant commander in a strike outside Baghdad airport.

The next year, the US announced the end of its combat mission in Iraq and a shift to advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, a move that changed little on the ground.

The Gaza war has put the issue back in center stage, with many Iraqi groups that brought Sudani’s government to power and are close to Tehran calling for the final exit of all foreign forces, a move long sought by Iran and its regional allies.

The chief of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech on Friday that US strikes in Iraq should pave the way for the final withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, which would also make their presence in northeastern Syria untenable.

Sudani said he was seeking the coalition’s exit because Iraq could now defend itself from terrorism and should exert full sovereignty over its territory — thereby avoiding giving anyone an excuse to draw Iraq into regional conflict.

“Ending its presence will prevent more tensions and the entanglement of internal and regional security issues,” Sudani said.

He said Iraq was open to establishing bilateral relations and engaging in security cooperation with coalition nations, including the US. This could including training and advising Iraqi security forces as well as weapons purchases.

The US “is not an enemy to us and we are not at war with it, but if these tensions continue it will definitely impact and create a gap in this relationship,” he said.

The post Iraq Seeks Quick Exit of US Forces but No Deadline Set, PM Says first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

The post Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law pic.twitter.com/d2uE16ZzQ1

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’ pic.twitter.com/DmHjwfHtPV

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

The post IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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