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Iraq says US strikes pushing government to end US-led coalition’s mission

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BAGHDAD: Repeated US strikes against Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq are pushing the Baghdad government to end the mission of the US-led coalition in the country, the prime minister’s military spokesperson said on Thursday.
The US military said a strike on Wednesday killed a commander from Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed armed group in Iraq that the Pentagon has blamed for attacking its troops.
Spokesperson Yahya Rasool said in a statement the US-led coalition “has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict”.
In Washington, the Pentagon said it had notified the Iraqi government about the strike shortly after it had taken place.
Talks between the two countries began in January over the future of the coalition. But less than 24 hours later three US soldiers were killed in an attack in Jordan that the United States said was carried out by Iran-backed militant groups in Syria and Iraq and the talks have since paused.
Iraq and the United States will resume negotiations on the future of the US-led international military coalition in the country on Feb. 11, the Iraqi military spokesperson said in a statement.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein called for the resumption of talks in a phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday.
Any discussions over the future of the coalition are expected to take months if not longer, with the outcome unclear.
The US-led international military coalition in Iraq was set up to fight Islamic State. The United States has 2,500 troops in Iraq, advising and assisting local forces to prevent a resurgence of the group.
Since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began in October, Iraq and Syria have witnessed almost daily tit-for-tat attacks between hardline Iran-backed armed groups and US forces stationed in the region.
A series of strikes by the United States in Iraq and Syria last week killed more than 40 militants, the Pentagon said.
At the time Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a state security force including Iran-backed groups, said 16 of its members were killed including fighters and medics. The government had said civilians were among 16 dead.
In Syria, those strikes killed 23 people who had been guarding the targeted locations, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on war in Syria.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah, Timour Azhari and Ahmed Rasheed. Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Deepa Babington and Alistair Bell)

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