An unnamed senior official in the Iraqi military revealed to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that he saw weaponry, including Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, during a recent visit to the airbase in western Iraq.
"The recent visit of the military delegation to Ain al-Asad base revealed the presence of offensive equipment and weapons," the official told the UK-based outlet before highlighting that “this is contrary to the agreement concluded in 2021, which allowed the presence of defensive weapons with the advisory task force.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, visited the base in Anbar province as part of a larger military delegation. This visit took place on 26 August, according to Iraqi media.
He also reported seeing an advanced radar system and monitoring equipment at the base, which served as the second largest US military airbase in Iraq during the illegal occupation of the country.
The official stressed that Baghdad intends to press the US on the issue, with special consideration given to US military movements in neighboring Syria. Over recent weeks, Iraq has seen a significant surge of US troops and military equipment, which US planners say are “part of the exchange of existing forces” in Syria.
The US military took control of Ain al-Assad in 2003 following the illegal invasion and occupation of the country.
While Washington initially withdrew its forces in 2011 when the White House failed to secure a new Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement with former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, US troops returned to the base under the pretext of training Iraqis to fight ISIS six months after the extremist group invaded and occupied Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June 2014.
On 18 December 2021, the Iraqi government announced that “no combat forces of the international coalition or NATO” remained inside Ain al-Assad base. However, 2,500 US troops remain in the country – many at Ain al-Asad base – in a “training and advisory role.”
Their continued presence is part of an agreement reached between Washington and Baghdad in July 2021 that was meant to see the complete withdrawal of US troops – similar to their exit from Afghanistan.
Calls for Washington to end its military occupation of Iraq intensified in January 2020 after the Iraqi parliament voted on a law to withdraw permission for the US to operate on Iraqi soil in response to the assassination of Iranian anti-terror commander Qassem Soleimani and the deputy leader of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, outside Baghdad airport.
In March of this year, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared, "US forces are ready to remain in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq.”