Pressure against the United States in Iraq and the Middle East ramped up on Sunday, as rockets hit near the American embassy and parliament demanded the ouster of thousands of US troops over the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
US-Iran ties have deteriorated after an American precision drone strike on Friday killed Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani and top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at the Baghdad international airport.
A pair of rockets hit near the US embassy in Iraq’s high-security Green Zone for the second night in a row on Sunday just hours after Iraq’s foreign ministry summoned the American ambassador over the strike.
Earlier, caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi attended an extraordinary parliamentary session during which he slammed the US strike as a “political assassination”. He joined 168 lawmakers, just enough for a quorum in Iraq’s 329-seat parliament, to discuss the ouster of US troops.
Some 5,200 US soldiers are stationed across Iraqi bases to support local troops preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State jihadist group. They are deployed as part of the broader international coalition, invited by the Iraqi government in 2014 to help fight IS.
“The parliament has voted to commit the Iraqi government to cancel its request to the international coalition for help to fight IS,” speaker Mohammed Halbusi announced.
The cabinet would have to approve any decision but the premier indicated support for ouster in his speech. “We face two main choices,” he told MPs: either immediately voting for foreign troops to leave or setting limits and a timeframe for withdrawal through a parliamentary process.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday the US military in the Middle East would pay the price for the killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, warning that US soldiers and officers would return home in coffins. In a speech marking the death of Soleimani and a top Iraqi militia commander in a targeted US airstrike, Nasrallah said responding to the killing was not only Iran’s responsibility but the responsibility of its allies too.
But US civilians should not be targeted, he said. Founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, Lebanese group Hezbollah is a critical part of an Iranian-backed regional military alliance.
“Fair punishment is (aimed at) the American military presence in the region: American military bases, American naval ships, every American officer and soldier in our countries and region,” Nasrallah said.
“The American army is the one that killed them and it is the one that will pay the price,” Nasrallah said, although US civilians in the region “should not be touched” because this would serve the agenda of US President Donald Trump.
“When the coffins of American soldiers and officers begin to be transported … to the United States, Trump and his administration will realise that they have really lost the region and will lose the elections,” Nasrallah said, referring to the 2020 U.S. presidential vote.
The United States holds Hezbollah responsible for the suicide bombing that destroyed US Marine headquarters in Beirut in October 1983, killing 241 servicemen, and a suicide bombing the same year on the U.S. embassy.
U.S. forces withdrew from Lebanon the following year. In an apparent reference to those attacks, Nasrallah said potential suicide attackers were present in the region in greater numbers than in the past.
Hezbollah has helped establish Iran-backed paramilitary groups in Syria and Iraq and inspired the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen. Together with Palestinian groups and the Syrian government, they are part of what Iran calls the “axis of resistance”.
“We must all seek just punishment across the reach of our region and our nation,” Nasrallah said during a rally by Hezbollah supporters in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut. Some at the rally chanted “death to America”, waved Hezbollah’s yellow flag, and held aloft pictures of Soleimani.
Nasrallah said the killing marked a new chapter in the history of the Middle East. Attacks on the U.S. military in the region would force U.S. forces to withdraw “humiliated, defeated and in terror … as they left in the past”, he said.