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US Withdraws Another 2,500 Troops From Iraq, Uncertainty Surrounds Future Plans

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US Withdraws Another 2,500 Troops From Iraq, Uncertainty Surrounds Future Plans

The locations of US-led coalition forces prior to their forced consolidation this year

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi confirmed over the weekend that around 2,500 US troops have been withdrawn from Iraq recently due to increasing concerns over their security following the steady increase in attacks this year against military bases where US personnel are deployed, the Green Zone in Baghdad where the US Embassy is located, and military convoys supplying these areas.

The US military has completed its drawdown from about 5,200 to fewer than 3,000 troops in Iraq, Army Colonel Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, has confirmed. LINK

Although official statements have declared that the intended schedule for complete withdrawal of US military personnel is three years, the period could be shortened or lengthened considerably depending on future developments.

The decision to make additional reductions of US troop numbers in Iraq was announced during Kadhimi’s US visit, and was given more urgency following US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s threat to close the embassy and withdraw US military personnel from Iraq completely after US positions and supply convoys were repeatedly subjected to rocket attacks from militias. The US has also threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq if this occurs.

According to officials in Baghdad, “US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed the President of the Republic, Barham Salih, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi, and Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi of the need to stop all attacks immediately, particularly against the US embassy in Baghdad; otherwise, the embassy will close its doors in the Iraqi capital.”

“The US will impose sanctions on 36 Iraqi persons who will be placed under an international warrant for arrest. The US administration will adopt measures that prevent any form of economic aid to Iraq, including preventing it from exporting its oil. Military options will be considered against the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), in particular, “Asaib Ahl al-Haq” and “Kataeb Hezbollah Iraq”. The US forces are expected to target their bases and offices in Iraq in retaliation to the several rockets launched against the US embassy in Baghdad. These attacks should stop immediately.” This was the content of Pompeo’s message that was delivered to the highest Iraqi authorities. LINK

The attacks against US positions increased steadily after the US murdered Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani as well as senior members of the Popular Mobilization Units early in January this year, prompting the Iraqi parliament to unanimously demand the withdrawal of US military personnel from Iraq.

The apparent contradictions in the recent public statements as opposed to actual intentions revealed by ongoing actions on the ground make an interpretation of the latest developments an uncertain task. After so many years, would the US really consider withdrawing all US military personnel, as well as diplomatic staff, from the country?

Although the current Iraqi government is concerned by the possibility of a ‘hasty’ US withdrawal, and the effect this could have for Iraq’s international relations (leaving aside the paradox of how a withdrawal could be considered hasty after so many years of military occupation), many in Iraq would welcome the move.

Nonetheless, the Iraqi government and parliament have moved quickly to investigate the rocket attacks and take extra measures to try and prevent them in the future.

The Iraqi news outlet Shafaq has reported that the Security and Defence Committee of the Iraqi Parliament revealed today, Tuesday, the reasons behind the decline of rocket strikes against US occupied installations in Baghdad over the last couple of weeks.

These installations include Baghdad airport, which includes a US military base, and the Green Zone, which have been subjected to frequent rocket attacks. The attacks have been carried out by groups who call themselves ‘resistance’ to the US military presence in the country, while the US accuses Iranian-backed groups of being responsible for the attacks.

Member of the committee, MP Abdul Khaleq Al-Azzawi, told Shafaq News agency, “Certainly, stopping the rocket strikes on the American embassy is a result of the American threats, especially since some factions have links to some political forces”, adding, “among the reasons behind stopping the rocket strikes, are the new security measures taken to protect these sites, as well as the tightening the military orders and sanctions against the officials of the sectors from which the rockets are usually launched”.

Also earlier today, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, chaired the first meeting of a new supreme military and security committee established to investigate the attacks that have targeted diplomatic installations and other areas occupied by the US-led coalition in the past period. LINK

The PM stated that the committee is authorized to demand any information from any party, and is expecting to show results within 30 days. The committee includes representatives of the security services, and the Security and Defence Committee of the Parliament.

The committee is headed by Qassem Al-Araji, National Security Adviser, and includes among its membership Falih Al-Fayyadh, Chairman of the Popular Mobilization forces, Abdul-Ghani Al-Asadi, head of the Iraqi National Security Service, and Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah, Chief of Staff of the Army, as well as other military commanders and representatives in the Parliament. LINK

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