Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a leader of the Daesh terrorist group, is still alive in Iraq’s western Anbar province, where he enjoys “U.S. protection”, an Iraqi lawmaker has alleged.
In a Thursday statement, Hassan Salem, an MP linked to the Asaib Ahl al-Haq group (a component of Iraq’s largely Shia Hashd al-Shaabi fighting force), said that al-Baghdadi -- despite several earlier reports of his death -- was “travelling freely through the region under U.S. protection”.
"Al-Baghdadi is in the Anbar desert, which he is using as a safe haven,” Salem said. “He is being provided with U.S. support at Anbar’s Ayn al-Assad military base and is travelling freely between Iraq and Syria.”
According to Salem, the U.S. is helping the Daesh leader because it knows Iraq’s parliament will soon demand a complete U.S. troop withdrawal from the country.
Pro-Iran groups in Iraq’s parliament are expected to approve a resolution in March calling for the departure of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
Roughly 5,000 U.S. military personnel have remained in the country since 2014, when Washington drew up an international military coalition with the ostensible aim of fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
In addition to training Iraqi forces, the U.S.-led coalition continues to provide the Iraqi army with air support in the latter’s continuing fight against Daesh’s lingering presence.
Shortly after its sudden appearance in mid-2014, the notorious terrorist group overran vast swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq.
In late 2017, Baghdad declared victory over Daesh following a three-year war that ended with the fall of Mosul, the group’s last remaining stronghold in Iraq.
The Iraqi army, however, continues to wage frequent operations against Daesh "sleeper cells" that allegedly remain active in certain parts of the country.