Iraqi official says combat operations against ISIS by US-led coalition ending after troop drawdown

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s foreign minister Wednesday condemned a rocket attack in the capital a day earlier, calling it a “terrorist act,” and said combat operations by the U.S.-led coalition will cease once troop withdrawals take place in the coming weeks.

Fuad Hussein’s comments came hours after seven rockets struck Baghdad, four of them exploding inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government and home to the U.S. Embassy.

The rockets, which killed a child and wounded five other civilians, indicated an end to an informal truce announced by Iran-backed militias in October to halt attacks targeting the U.S. presence in Iraq.

One rocket landed just 600 meters (2,000 feet) from the U.S. Embassy compound, Iraqi security officials said.

U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003 and left in 2011 but returned in 2014 after the Islamic State group overran large parts of Iraq.

Frequent attacks targeting the U.S. Embassy and vehicles transporting equipment for U.S. troops have led Washington to threaten to close its Baghdad diplomatic mission.

Hussein called the attack against the Green Zone “blatant, criminal and terrorist” in comments to reporters following a meeting with the U.S. ambassador and U.S. military leaders. “It is an attack on the Iraqi government and Iraqi people and we condemn such operations,” Hussein said.

The Pentagon this week announced a reduction of troops in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500. Hussein said that following the departure of the 500 personnel, coalition combat operations against the Islamic State group would officially end.

The number of coalition troops had already been reduced from 5,200 to 3,000 in line with a planned drawdown from several Iraqi military bases.

No one claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack but the U.S. has directly accused Iran-backed Shiite militias for past attacks on its interests in Iraq.

Security forces inspect the scene of the rocket attack at the gate of al-Zawra public park in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2020. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Security forces inspect the scene of the rocket attack at the gate of al-Zawra public park in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2020. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Iraqi officials questioned the timing of Tuesday’s attack. The militias had conditioned their truce on a scheduled withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition troops in line with a non-binding resolution in Parliament passed in January. That resolution was passed by predominantly Shiite lawmakers when Iraq-U.S. tensions soared following the Washington-directed strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani outside Baghdad airport.

play_circle_filled Mourners step over U.S. flags with pictures of President Donald Trump while waiting for the funeral of Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, in Baghdad on Saturday. Thousands of mourners chanting

Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group the U.S. believes has launched rocket attacks in the past, denied responsibility for Tuesday’s barrage. One official from the group told The Associated Press it was a “mistake” and said the group wants to see a “full withdrawal, not a partial one” of U.S. troops.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to brief media.

Remnants of ISIS are still active in northern Iraq and continue to target security forces in the provinces of Diyala and Kirkuk.

Asked if he was concerned about the U.S. drawdown announcement, Hussein said: “Our dialogue is ongoing and we are following the situation and political changes in the U.S., and there are ongoing meetings to assess the coming stage.”

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