According to reports, US officials agree that by the end of 2021 American ground forces in Iraq should be out of the country, leaving behind their air-force as the primary aid to the Iraqi governments fight against ISIS cells operating in the country – But is this the reality?
The reports of a coming US withdrawal have caused many to rejoice at President Joe Biden’s efforts to end America’s Middle East wars, but is it actually true that US forces will be leaving Iraq? Well, it’s not likely.
The Wall Street Journal reported late last week that come Monday, according to their sources, a joint statement was to be made by US and Iraqi officials on US troop withdrawal from Iraq. The report indicated that by the end of 2021 all US ground forces will be removed from the country.
It has been made clear across mainstream Western press that the move is one of a drawdown, not a withdrawal from the country. It is also noted that part of the reasoning behind the withdrawal is to do with the pressure exerted by the PMU (Popular Mobilisation Forces). The PMU, an official branch of the Iraqi security apparatus, has been the most formidable ground force in the country, having been created initially in order to combat the growth of Daesh. The PMU is composed of various different militia groups, the strongest of which are aligned with Iran and hold the position that all US forces are to be expelled from Iraqi soil.
This desire to expel US forces from Iraq, by the PMU, greatly increased after US drone strikes assassinated top commanders of the group, along with Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani of the IRGC’s Quds Forces. Shortly after, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel US forces from Iraqi soil, yet the decision was non-binding and has not since materialized.
Whether of a desire to try and paint a troop withdrawal as a negative or not, as can be the case with Western mainstream news outlets, the New York Times actually pointed out the truth about the alleged drawdown in US forces and exposed it for the farce that it is. After reporting that Pentagon officials had indicated that they would listen to the requests of Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi to withdraw combat forces, they also noted how this won’t change much on the ground.
NYT accurately reported that the US does not, as of now, acknowledge its some 2,500 troops as combat forces and only recognizes the existence of small groups of special forces who coordinate and train Iraqi troops. The authors also point out that rather than physically withdrawing the personnel, the US will instead just change their job descriptions and will still coordinate with the Iraqi government on the usage of the US air force to combat Daesh.
So all in all, it’s not even much of a drawdown on paper either, the US government is just attempting to work on a political maneuver in order to make things easier for Iraq’s Prime Minister and US forces who are coming under ever growing pressure to leave. We also know that PM al-Kadhimi had met with US coordinator Brett McGurk on the 15th of July to discuss a possible drawdown of troops, which was to be followed up with his visit to Washington on Monday.
What the NYT does not cover, however, is the fact that whilst the US may look to draw down its troop numbers, it may also be expanding the number of US personnel on the ground at the same time. Back in February this year, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the military organisations training mission in Iraq would increase this year from 500- 4,000 personnel, in order to help in the fight against Daesh. It is assumed that many of those personnel will come from the US military, which will actually mean an increase in forces belonging to the US in the country.
What needs to be additionally understood, is that the US is not in Iraq for the sake of fighting Daesh. There are few circumstances under which US forces are actually needed in the country, because there is no foreseeable threat of a Daesh insurgency, only attacks from small cells belonging to the group. In terms of ground forces, there is no need whatsoever for US ground forces or any other foreign troops to be there – the PMU was the ground force which defeated Daesh in the first place, not Western forces. The air force of the US helped in the fight against Daesh, but very late into the game and even now the US government rarely uses its capabilities to target the group at all.
The real reason for US presence in Iraq is to combat Iran. On top of this, if the US just left, their forces in Syria – which illegally occupy a third of the country – would have to leave immediately or face being abandoned. The supply line to US forces based in Syria is all run through Iraq, and in order to keep Syria economically weak they have to continue stopping the Syrian government from getting its hands on its most fertile agricultural lands and natural resources – and therein continuing to create the very civilian suffering used to justify the US government’s ongoing illegal occupation.
A US withdrawal from Iraq will not come through simple diplomacy at this point, but at least now we see that the pressure is being exerted in order to make the American government shift it’s thinking. If the US does ever decide to fully leave Syria or Iraq, the unfortunate reality is that it will likely be due to armed conflict, and that is now what we are seeing more of in Iraq.