(Amends quote in seventh paragraph to reflect official transcript.)
(CNSNews.com) – President Trump’s unannounced visit Wednesday to U.S. forces in Iraq brought a veiled threat from the leader of an Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia – remove the troops or face the type of bloodshed they confronted before their previous withdrawal, in 2011.
Complaining that Trump’s visit to the Al Asad Airbase in Anbar province violated diplomatic norms, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) leader Qais al-Khazali said on Twitter the Iraqi parliament would respond by voting to expel the American troops stationed there.
“And if they do not leave,” he added, “we have the experience and the ability to eject them by other means, familiar to your forces when they were humiliated in 2011.”
AAH is one of two main IRGC Qods Force-backed Iraqi militias which U.S. military commanders accuses of responsibility for numerous deadly attacks on their forces during the Iraq war.
As part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), there are currently some 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, mostly involved in training national soldiers and police, now that the Sunni jihadists of ISIS have all but been defeated.
Trump told the troops on Wednesday that while he has announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria – where they have also been participating in the anti-ISIS OIR mission – he has no plans to end the deployment in Iraq.
While the personnel stationed in Syria would mostly go home, he said, “some will come here [to Iraq] for a stay.”
Trump added that the U.S. military presence in Iraq would be maintained “to prevent an ISIS resurgence and to protect U.S. interests. And also to always watch very closely over any potential re-formation of ISIS – and also to watch over Iran. We’ll be watching.”
Khazali of AAH was not alone in criticizing Trump’s visit and remarks.
Sabah al-Saidi, a leader in the Islah bloc – the largest faction in the Iraqi parliament, headed by the Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr – said the U.S. occupation of Iraq was over and that he would call for an emergency session to debate the president’s visit.
The rival Bina bloc, of which AAH is a part, said in a statement Trump’s visit was “a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms,” and showed “his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government.”
Iraq’s recently appointed prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, did not meet with Trump during the brief visit to Anbar province, although they did speak by phone.
Iran’s Qods Force and its affiliated militias – primarily AAH and Kata’ib Hezbollah – are blamed for the deaths of around 500 U.S. military personnel between 2005 and 2011, many of them killed by Iranian-supplied “explosively formed penetrators,” an especially lethal form of IED.
(Kata’ib Hezbollah has been a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization since 2009.)
AAH chief Khazali also threatened U.S. forces in Iraq earlier this year, saying that if they stayed in the country once ISIS had been defeated – their stated reason for being there – they would face a “dark night.”
“O America take it as a warning or consider it a threat,” Khazali said then. “We are people who do not accept the presence of your troops on their land and you are delusional if you imagine that you can stay against the will of the Iraqi people. We will turn it into a dark night …”
US combat fatalities in the anti-ISIS campaign
Since the anti-ISIS mission began in 2014, 67 military personnel attached to OIR have been killed across the region, 14 of them in combat circumstances.
The 14 Americans killed in combat are:
Army Spc. Alexander Missildine, 20, of Tyler, Texas, killed when an IED was detonated near his convoy in Salah ad-Din province on Oct. 2, 2017.
Army Sgt. Roshain Euvince Brooks, 30, of Brooklyn, New York, died of wounds sustained when an artillery round detonated prematurely, during combat operations in Iraq, on Aug. 13, 2017.
Army Spc. Allen Levi Stigler Jr., 22, of Arlington, Texas, died of wounds sustained while engaged in combat operations in Iraq, on Aug. 13, 2017.
Army 1st Lt. Weston Lee, 25, of Bluffton, Georgia, died on Apr. 29 2017, from injuries while conducting security as part of advise-and-assist support to partnered forces in Mosul.
Navy Chief Petty Officer Jason Finan, 34, of Anaheim, California, died of wounds sustained when a roadside bomb exploded near the vehicle he was in, in northern Iraq on Oct. 20, 2016.
Navy SEAL Charles Keating, 31, of San Diego, Calif., was killed in a firefight in Ninawa province on May 3, 2016.
Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, 27, of Temecula, California, died on Mar. 19, 2016 when ISIS fighters attacked a fire base in Erbil.
Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, 39, from Roland, Oklahoma, was the first American killed in action in Iraq since 2011. The Special Forces operator died from wounds sustained from enemy small-arms fire during a joint U.S.-Kurdish raid on an ISIS-run prison in Kirkuk province on Oct. 22, 2015.
Army Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar, 36, of Austin, Texas, died on March 30, 2018, in Manbij, as a result of injuries when an IED was detonated near his patrol.
Army Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren, 25, of Umatilla, Oregon, died on March 28, 2017 in northern Syria in a non-combat-related incident while deployed in support of combat operations.
Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton, 42, of Woodbridge, Virginia, died on Nov. 24, 2016, in northern Syria, of wounds sustained in an IED blast.
Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Lewellen, 27, of Lawrence, Kansas, Staff Sgt. Kevin McEnroe, 30, of Tucson, Arizona, and Staff Sgt. James Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Texas, were shot dead when their convoy came under fire entering a Jordanian military base on Nov. 4, 2016.