Talk to Al Jazeera: In the Field

Iraq: In the shadow of US-Iran tensions

Talk to Al Jazeera travels to Baghdad to find out if an Iranian attack on US forces in Iraq is imminent.

Tensions between the United States and Iran escalated in early January after US President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani

The strike also killed Iraq’s Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). 

In response, Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at two US bases.

The coalition recognises that Iraq is a dangerous place. We came here to fight and defeat ISIS ... There are continued threats from ISIS as well as other groups. We are ready for those threats.

by Colonel Myles Caggins, spokesperson, combined joint task-force Operation Inherent Resolve

All of that happened on Iraqi soil, a nation once again caught up between a regional giant and a military superpower.

Trump is adamant that the attack was “self-defence” and that Soleimani posed an imminent threat – which was contradicted by Iran and the Iraqi prime minister.

And Iran says it was delivered “a slap in the face” with a missile strike which will usher in the end of US presence in the Middle East.

So is the latest US-Iran crisis really over? Will the US heed calls for its forces to leave Iraq?

Al Jazeera was given rare access to the sprawling Ain al-Assad base after the Iranian strike. We asked the US-led coalition if the threats from Iran-backed militias still loom. And in a rare TV appearance, Mohammad Mohie, spokesman of the Iran-backed Shia paramilitary group Kataib Hezbollah, talked to Al Jazeera.

Asked about the US government calling Kataib Hezbollah a threat to Iraq’s peace and security, Mohie said: “We are Iraqis and from Iraqi soil. We have confronted US troops; they were occupation troops according to the UN. After 2003, the US troops were occupation troops so it was the right of the Iraqi people to resist. And with our joint efforts, we expelled US troops. So the return of the US troops to this area is stirring problems by inciting violence and supporting terrorist groups and Takfiris. Those groups threaten the security of the region, this is the main reason for instability in the Middle East and it is the main threat to everyone’s security. We are the sons of this area, we have the right to defend it, to live in it peacefully.”

The group has been accused of being the cause of the crisis which was triggered by an attack on a US civilian contractor in Kirkuk. But Mohie rejected these claims, saying that Kataib Hezbollah was not behind the attack which led to the US contractor’s death.

“The United States has worked to malign Popular Mobilisation Forces as a pretext to attack them and to attack Kataib Hezbollah,” he told Al Jazeera. “We believe that the US is creating excuses for attacking us and to prevent our presence at the western borders. So what happened in Kirkuk was the Americans created this excuse and they conducted a huge attack against our troops who were fighting against ISIL at the Iraq-Syria border. The crisis was due to the American aggression against our troops.”