US dismisses Iraqi PM’s request for troop withdrawal

By: Zachary Frye

Updated on

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Iraq’s serving Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi sent a request to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the withdrawal of US forces from the country during a telephone conversation late last week. According to reports, the request was dismissed with the claim that US troops are crucial for the fight against the Islamic State. Instead, Pompeo suggested they work together to “recommit” to the American–Iraqi partnership.

During the conversation, the Iraqi prime minister noted that the recent US strikes in Iraq, including those that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, were an illegal breach of Iraqi sovereignty and a violation of the countries’ bilateral agreements. 

Parliamentary vote ignored

Last Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel American troops from the country, as fears of an increased US–Iranian proxy war took hold. This suggests a willingness to push back against the US presence in the country, which has been a constant since the American presence in Iraq from 2003.

The United States Department of State (DOS) has made it clear that it intends to remain in Iraq. Pompeo does seem willing to negotiate the details of the relationship, however. “We are happy to continue the conversation with the Iraqis about what the right structure is,” Pompeo said.

Call for withdrawal not universal

As short-term tensions subside, many Iraqi’s are reconsidering the country’s relationship with the United States. Iran, as one of the region’s stronger powers, holds a significant amount of influence over Iraq. A mutual dislike for one another, honed over generations, adds fuel to arguments expressing fear that US withdrawal could leave a vacuum for further Iranian influence. 

Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers, both minority presences in Iraq, opposed the parliament’s resolution. The Sunnis see the American presence as a barrier against majority Shiite and Iranian influence, while the Kurds have benefitted from US training and protection.  

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US nonprofit think tank specializing in foreign policy and international affairs, argues that the aftermath of the Soleimani killing will radically change the nature of the US–Iraqi relationship. “One sure result of the US strike is that the era of US–Iraq cooperation is over,” he recently tweeted. Haass continues to say that greater Iranian influence will be a key consequence of America’s diminishing presence: “The US diplomatic & mil presence will end b/c Iraq asks us to depart or our presence is just a target or both. The result will be greater Iranian influence, terrorism and Iraqi infighting.”