In an intelligence note written on 12 December by Iraq’s intelligence ministry and seen by Intelligence Online, the country’s spymasters express concern over ongoing US military operations in Baghdad, which are seen as aggravating the threats faced by the capital, particularly from rocket attacks. This took place on the very day that US National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk made an appearance in the Green Zone alongside prime minister Mustafa Al Kazemi and President Barem Saleh to announce that the International Coalition was ending its combat missions in Iraq . The hope was that this would calm the threatening stance adopted by some Hachd al-Chaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces – PMF) shia militias.
Militia tensions still high
On that same day, when a PMF demonstration was taking place in Baghdad’s Jadriya district, three American Chinook helicopters, which were flying over the area, activated their BAE Systems advanced threat infrared countermeasures systems, making themselves ready to use their munitions to intercept possible missiles. This excited the crowd, which was already in a state of tension because of the persistent presence of the aircraft. Alerted by Iraqi intelligence, the Baghdad Operation Command , which had already been concerned by the discovery of a number of rocket launchers in the pro-PMF Sadr City district, strengthened security in the capital.
US troops set to stay
Last July, Joe Biden confirmed that the 2,500 US troops still in Iraq would be withdrawn on 31 December but the announcement of the end of combat missions, which was confirmed by Iraqi national security adviser Qassem Al Araji , seems rather to augur a minor modification of the mission of the troops rather than their immediate, final withdrawal. Particularly since French chief of defence staff Thierry Burkhard, who was also in Baghdad on 12 December to meet Operation Inherent Resolve commander John W. Brennan and Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service chief Abdel Wahab al-Saadi, did not refer to any change in the coalition’s missions, emphasising rather the threat still posed by the Islamic State Group (Daesh).