Pompeo decries pro-Iran factions warning to Iraqi troops

Washington (AFP)


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday hit back at a hardline pro-Iran faction in Iraq, after it urged Iraqis to move away from US forces.

The warning from Kataeb Hezbollah came as tens of thousands mourned Iran's Major General Qasem Soleimani, whose death in a US strike early Friday brought vows of "severe revenge" from Tehran.

Kataeb Hezbollah's "thugs are telling Iraqi security forces to abandon their duty to protect (the US embassy in Baghdad) and other locations where Americans work side by side with good Iraqi people," Pompeo tweeted.

"The Iranian regime telling Iraq's government what to do puts Iraqi patriots' lives at risk. The Iraqi people want out from under the Iranian yoke; indeed, they recently burned an Iranian consulate to the ground," he wrote, referencing the November sacking of the Iranian consulate in the southern city of Najaf by a protest movement angry at the government and its backers in Iran.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis including Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, political leaders and clerics attended a mass ceremony on Saturday to honor Soleimani, who died in a precision drone strike on Baghdad international airport that killed a total of five Iranian Revolutionary Guards and five members of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi military network.

In its message, Kataeb Hezbollah, a faction of Hashed said, "We ask security forces in the country to get at least 1,000 meters away from US bases starting on Sunday at 5:00pm (1400 GMT)."

The group's deadline would coincide with a parliament session on Sunday which the Hashed has insisted should see a vote on the ouster of US troops.

In the first hints of a possible retaliatory response, two mortar rounds hit an area near the US embassy in Baghdad on Saturday, while almost simultaneously two rockets slammed into the Al-Balad airbase where American troops are deployed, security sources told AFP.

The Iraqi military confirmed the missile attacks in Baghdad and on al-Balad and said there were no casualties.