US military resumes counter-ISIS operations in Iraq

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The US military is resuming operations against ISIS militants in Iraq and is working to soon restart training Iraqi forces, US officials said Wednesday, despite deep divisions over the American drone strike that killed a senior Iranian commander in Baghdad and the resulting missile attacks by Iran on Iraqi bases.

One official said some joint operations between the US and Iraqi forces have already begun, but there are not yet as many as before. The official said details are still being worked out to restore the training of Iraqi forces, but that could happen relatively soon.

Relations with Iraq were fractured after the US launched a drone strike near Baghdad’s international airport on Jan. 3 that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The Parliament later voted to expel US forces from the country and Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi asked Washington to work out a road map for a troop withdrawal. The US flatly rejected that request and has not moved to pull the more than 5,000 troops out.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss decisions not yet made public.

One official said military leaders have discussed the resumption of operations with the Iraqis, but it’s not clear who was involved in those talks or whether Iraqi government leaders are publicly endorsing the move.

Iraqi leaders were angry about the American drone strike and the retaliatory attacks by Iran. Iranian missiles struck Al-Asad Air Base last week and hit near another base, but warnings sounded and no one was killed or injured.

Iraq officials, however, called the US strike that killed Soleimani an unacceptable breach of Iraqi sovereignty. That strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. And thousands of anti-government protesters turned out in Baghdad and southern Iraq, with many calling for both the US and Iran to leave their country.

US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, dismissed the calls for American troops to leave, saying the forces are critical to the fight against ISIS.

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