After a United States drone strike killed an Iraqi military leader Thursday, the Iraq government said it would move to end the presence of the American-led military coalition in the country. Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s office announced Friday that he was forming a bilateral committee to prepare for the end of more than 20 years of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Iraq’s prime minister is stuck between a rock and a hard place
Iraq’s leader came into office early last year talking up the continued need for U.S. troops, who are training Iraqis to fight ISIS. But the mood in Iraq has shifted decisively since the U.S. started trading fire with Iraqi militias after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack ignited tensions across the Middle East. The U.S. strike on a militia leader in the heart of Baghdad without the consent of Iraq’s government led even moderate politicians to launch broadsides against the U.S., an Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group wrote on X. The strike particularly aggravated Iraqis because the killed militia leader was part of the Popular Mobilization Force, a network of militias nominally under the control of the Iraqi military. A political adviser close to al-Sudani told Reuters that the prime minister is hoping to appease “angry parties within the governing Shi’ite coalition” with his decision to pull U.S. troops. Shi’ite parliamentarians also announced on Friday that they are trying to pass a law that would involve the departure of foreign troops within 3 months.
Doubts persist about whether Iraqi military can stand on its own
If U.S. and international forces wind down their presence in Iraq, some experts fear the Iraqi military would struggle to maintain peace. Iraqi forces continue to have key weaknesses in “mission planning, intelligence, artillery, and logistics capability,” a U.S. military assessment concluded last year. Plus, the U.S. presence in Iraq supports American operations in Syria, meaning that any decision to depart Iraq would make U.S. bases there unsustainable, the Institute for the Study of War said. A departure from Syria would “very likely create space for ISIS to rapidly resurge in Syria within 12 to 24 months and then threaten Iraq,” the U.S. think tank warned.
Bipartisan voices emerge in the U.S. calling for troops in Iraq and Syria to leave
Persistent attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria — totaling over 100 so far since Oct. 7 — have sparked debates in the U.S. about whether the 2,500 soldiers in Iraq and the 900 in Syria should be sent home. An unlikely coalition of both Republicans and Democrats tried to pass a resolution to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, which was voted down by a margin of 13-84 in December. Critics of the military presence argue that these troops’ mission of defeating ISIS should have expired years ago. “Keeping U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria without a clear military mission does not make America safer, but instead risks a catastrophic loss of American life,” a foreign policy analyst wrote in The American Conservative.