Middle East Eye website reported that commanders of key groups in Baghdad were ready to resume an unofficial truce, “provided the Americans remain calm as well”. The US has not yet responded to the proposal.
The militias’ aim is to “contain” a dangerously escalating situation after US air raids on militia positions in Syria and Iraq prompted militiamen to fire rockets at a US base near al-Omari oil field in eastern Syria.
While four Iraqi fighters were killed in US strikes, a US-led coalition spokesman tweeted that US troops suffered no casualties.
The Baghdad gathering was reportedly attended by Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organisation, a leading Shia militia and political party; and Abu Fadak al-Mohammadawi, chief of staff of the Popular Mobilisation Authority, the umbrella body for mainly Shia militias which united to fight Islamic State.
‘Death to America’
Among those sending representatives were Kataeb Hizbullah and Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada, the two targeted in the US raid as they have been mainly responsible for attacks against Iraqi bases hosting US forces. Although some factions have threatened to resume attacks, they are likely to abide by the consensus.
Nevertheless, thousands of fighters mourning their deceased comrades marched to Liberation Square near Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, site of the US embassy, chanting “Death to America” and “Vengeance for the martyrs”.
Since the January 2020 assassination in Iraq by US drones of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani and deputy Popular Mobilisation chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi parliament , in which the militias are heavily represented, has exerted pressure on prime minister Mustafa Kadhimi to demand the full withdrawal of US troops. Instead he has tried and failed to rein in the militias.
‘Risk of escalation’
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called the US strikes, the second by the Biden administration, “defensive” and said the US undertook “necessary, appropriate and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation – but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message”.
The administration launched its initial strikes against the same factions in February.
So far this year, Iran-supported Shia militias have launched at least 40 attacks on US forces in Iraq. Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr Jessica McNulty told Military Times that five armed drone strikes triggered the latest strikes.
The US has become particularly concerned over the introduction of these weapons. Unlike rockets and artillery shells, which have fixed launch sites that can be eliminated, drones can be flown from anywhere.