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The US Is Not Drawing Down In Iraq, Despite Its Claims To Do So

The US Biden administration proclaimed earlier this year, whilst hosting Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustapha Al-Qadhimi, that it was planning a draw down in Iraq and the end of its “combat mission”. Iraqi officials have now claimed that the US is on track to do just that, but in reality this is nothing more than political theatre.

Iraq’s government has announced that the US has ended its combat mission ahead of schedule, in accordance with an agreement extracted by Iraqi PM Mustapha al-Qadhimi back in July. The agreement stipulated that the United States would end its combat mission and withdraw all relevant troops, who were placed there for that purpose, by the end of 2021. According to the Iraqi statement US forces will soon begin the withdrawal of those relevant forces.

For supporters of US President Joe Biden, this may seem to fall in line with a strategy for withdrawal of American forces in the Middle East and provide an argument to say, along with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, that the US government is moving towards a new policy in the region. However, not only is this untrue when we look to the other country’s across the region which are embroiled in wars fueled by US interventionist policies, but it’s also no more than cheap political theatre.

Iraq’s Prime Minister has come under immense pressure to tackle foreign interference in his country, since assuming office. The two main foreign countries with a foothold inside Iraq are Iran and the United States. Since the illegal drone strikes carried out under the orders of former US President Donald Trump, killing Iran’s top General and leaders of the Iraqi PMU, a vote in Iraq’s parliament, popular protest movements and Iraqi militias have called on the American forces to withdraw. Although the likes of popular Shia Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers have been a strong voice against Iranian, as well as American, influence in Iraq, the pressure to cleanse the country of Washington’s presence has been much more powerful.

In particular the continued armed attacks on American forces, as well as US strikes against them, by the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) has ramped up tensions to a boiling point. The most prominent anti-US groups in the PMU, Kataeb Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba, have been at the forefront of the attacks on American military convoys and have announced their support for vengeance strikes against the US’ personnel if they do not fulfill their obligations to withdraw by the end of the year.

The PMU and their supporters have placed a lot of pressure on Iraq’s PM to act against the US and negotiate their withdrawal. This pressure is what birthed July’s agreement. For the PMU, they need a PR win, and with this they can show their effectiveness to their supporters and for the Iraqi government they can relieve some tensions over their tight relationship with Washington whilst still maintaining it. So, the US and Iraqi governments decided to pull off a performative act in order to please all sides, whilst doing nothing to change the size of their power and influence in Iraq.

In reality the US never really had a combat mission in Iraq, in a traditional sense, and since it intervened to fight the Daesh insurgency primarily with their airpower, has only maintained a troop presence of special forces, advisors and trainers. The US never admitted to having any traditional ground forces in Iraq and when questioned on the role of their 2,500 troops which still remain, they have always outlined the fact that there are no ground forces.

The US operates special forces units, which perform sweeping operations and on occasion engage with terrorist groups on the ground. This way, by not having an official ground force, the US has been able to get away with claiming that it is only in Iraq for advising and training Iraqi forces. The reality is, however, very different.

The US government maintains a presence of US forces there for multiple purposes, including asserting their dominance and providing a supply route to their forces in Syria. In fact, in Syria, there are very few US troops that are currently operating there and the majority of them are special forces units. But this does not in anyway prevent them from working with their allies to occupy a third of Syrian territory, including the country’s most fertile agricultural lands and most of their resources.

Washington’s presence in Iraq resembles a similar role played in Syria, in that they are there strategically. Removing them, whilst possible and for the betterment of the region, would severely weaken their ability to dictate regional outcomes. Iran, Russia, and to a lesser extent, Turkey, are the primary reasons behind the US presence with their forces. If the US leaves Iraq, then it will be forced to leave North Eastern Syria and their ability then to combat pro-Iran forces would be weakened.

The US Biden administration may end up withdrawing a limited number of service members from Iraq, but it is just as likely that they will rotate other troops in to replace them. It also looks likely that the number of US forces may well rise in Iraq, on the request of Iraq’s government NATO pledged in February to increase its forces by up to 3,500. All these forces will be labelled as advisors and trainers. In addition to this, there are an unknown number of private contractors who are currently operating in Iraq, so it is unlikely that we will see any change on the ground at all when it comes to US government presence.

Yet again, this is simply theatre, nothing more than a big trick to try and please all sides. The Biden administration is not changing anything in Iraq, and after already launching at least two bombing campaigns against the PMU this year, without congressional approval, it has been far from a peaceful status quo. It is also likely that the US will soon launch another fresh batch of airstrikes against the PMU, in response to an attack using missiles and drones on the US’ al-Tanf base in southern Syria. The US alluded to the PMU being behind the attack and stated its intention to respond. Especially due to negotiations surrounding the Iran Nuclear Deal falling through, it only seems as if the US is seeking to do more damage in Iraq than it is good.

Robert Inlakesh
Robert Inlakesh is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, writer, Middle-East analyst & news correspondent for The Last American Vagabond.

One Reply to “The US Is Not Drawing Down In Iraq, Despite Its Claims To Do So

  1. The worst part about all of this for the US is that it shows just how completely detached the public is with our overseas murder sprees. I argued this back at the time, that outsourcing so much of the necessities of war making to private industry detaches the people from the war to such an extent that it would lead to this.

    Our military is rouge at this point, the politicians never held responsible for sending them, and the people held at bay but simply just being invested, and those that are invested, “chose to be, so stfu”.

    This is the trap.

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