BAGHDAD – The U.S. military resumed joint operations with Iraq on Wednesday, military officials said, ending a 10-day pause that began after a US air strike that killed a senior Iranian military commander in Baghdad.
The decision to restart military operations came less than two weeks after the Iraqi Parliament voted to expel all US forces from the country. The government accused the United States of violating Iraqi sovereignty by carrying out air strikes in Iraq, including one on January 3 that killed the Iranian commander, a leader of the Iraqi militia forces and eight others.
Two US military officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the missions to reporters, confirmed that the joint operations had restarted.
They said the military wanted to resume operations against the Islamic State as soon as possible to reduce the momentum the group could have and stifle any propaganda victory it could claim because the United States had suspended the operation.
On Wednesday it was not clear if someone in the Iraqi government approved the resumption of joint missions, it was the Americans who arrested them, not the Iraqis, and Iraqi officials could not be contacted for comment.
The interim prime minister of Iraq, Adel Abdul Mahdi, who said his government would comply with Parliament’s order to expel US forces, seemed to soften his position on Wednesday.
In a speech before his cabinet, he suggested that Parliament’s decision might not be the last word, saying: “If we reach the decision to get the forces out of Iraq, this would be the decision of the Iraqi government.”
He also noted that if the government expelled the Americans, it would follow “an appropriate timeline,” suggesting that any departure might not be immediate. He also reminded ministers that “ISIS has begun to reorganize and plan invasions and attacks.”
Mr. Abdul Mahdi had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend to send delegates to Iraq to resolve the details of a troop withdrawal, according to a statement issued by his office.
The State Department said the United States would only be willing to discuss “an appropriate force posture in the Middle East.”
Despite the movements of the Iraqi government to expel the Americans, some Iraqi security officials opposed the idea, saying they were necessary to help fight the remains of the Islamic State and prevent their resurgence, as well as to support the coalition troops from other countries.
If the Americans and most of the other military in the coalition left, the Iraqis could continue fighting the extremists on their own, but they would probably be hampered by the lack of intelligence and drone-based air coverage, according to senior military officials. the coalition
The Islamic State, which a few years ago controlled a large part of Iraq, no longer controls the territory there, but remains active in some pockets and claims some Iraqi lives almost every week.
Withdrawing the United States army from Iraq would require more than one vote in Parliament. According to US officials, it would require the Iraqi government to nullify the agreements it has made that allow US and coalition forces to train, advise and assist in the fight against the Islamic State.
The US-led military coalition in Iraq suspended its anti-terrorist mission on January 5, two days after an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles at a convoy at Baghdad airport, killing the Iranian commander, major general Qassim Suleimani; Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy chief of a coalition of Iraqi militias; and eight other people.
Americans worried that outrage over the drone attack could lead to attacks against the US military by Iran-backed militias in Iraq or a retaliatory attack by Iran itself.
The army said there had been repeated attacks on US military posts in Iraq in the previous weeks, including one that killed an American contractor on December 27.
“Therefore, we have paused these activities, subject to continuous review,” the army said in a statement.
The Iraqi Parliament voted to expel US forces from the country on the same day. Iran fired a barrage of missiles at two US military posts in Iraq last week.
Alissa J. Rubin reported from Baghdad and Eric Schmitt from Washington.