Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, confirmed Friday that while the US formally ended its combat role in Iraq, none of the 2,500 troops in the country will be leaving.
McKenzie acknowledged that keeping troops in Iraq puts them at risk of being attacked by some of Iraq’s Shia militias or other forces in the country that want the US to leave. “They actually want all US forces to leave, and all US forces are not going to leave,” he said. “That may provoke a response as we get later into the end of the month.”
The US troops will remain in Iraq to train and advise the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS, which is essentially what they have been doing anyway. Since ISIS no longer holds significant territory and there are only small remnants of the group left in Iraq, the continued US presence will do little but create a tripwire for further conflict.
The Iraqi government has been under pressure to expel the US since Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed by a US drone strike in January 2020. After the assassinations, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel US troops.
Tensions flared earlier this year when President Biden ordered airstrikes against Iraqi militias in Syria and again later in Iraq. Iran’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was again under pressure to kick out the US, but he only reached a deal to formally end the combat mission.