A spokesman for an Iraqi Shia militia said in an interview with Rudaw Sunday that there will be an “appropriate response” if all US troops don’t leave Iraq. At the end of July, President Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced the US will end its “combat” mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, but troops are expected to stay in the country under an advisory role.
“The talks that took place between Baghdad and Washington, and the outcomes they produced, did not achieve the Iraqi ambition, which is the exit of all US forces,” said Sheikh Kadhim al-Fartousi, a spokesman for Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, a militia under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
“Changing clothes and appearance is not a withdrawal … the US and foreign forces withdrawal from Iraq has to be in full,” al-Fartousi said. There are currently about 2,500 US troops in Iraq fighting under the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. It’s not clear how many would leave under Biden’s plan. After the change in mission was announced, multiple media outlets cited unnamed US officials who said there would not be a significant change in troop numbers.
Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada and other PMF militias have their reasons to want the US to leave the country. The Biden administration specifically targeted Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada in airstrikes in Syria back in February. In January 2020, the Trump administration killed PMF leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis alongside Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani with a drone strike in Baghdad.
After Soleimani and al-Muhandis were killed, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel US troops. Since Kadhimi became Iraq’s prime minister in May 2020, he has been under intense domestic pressure to get the US to leave. But the US refuses to fully withdraw due in part to the fact that bases in Iraq support US operations in Syria, where the Biden administration wants to maintain its occupation.
Merely changing the label of the US occupation of Iraq is not enough for groups like Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, but other Shia elements in the country have welcomed Biden’s announcement. Either way, there will be opposition to the continued US presence. Considering how small of a threat ISIS is now, keeping troops in the country does little but risk further escalation with Iraq’s militias, who are sworn enemies of ISIS.