Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced Wednesday the official end of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition’s combat mission in Iraq, but US troops will remain in the country despite the change.
“The Coalition has fully completed their combat role after transfer of personnel and material outside Iraq. Going forward, their role will be to advise and assist our security forces per the outcome of the Strategic Dialogue,” Kadhimi wrote on Twitter.
It’s not clear if any US or other coalition troops left Iraq. Earlier this month, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced the change of Washington’s role in Iraq from a combat mission to an advisory one but said no troops would be leaving. The latest numbers put the US presence in the country at 2,500 troops.
The change in the US’s role in Iraq was an attempt by Kadhimi to placate the elements in Iraq that want the US gone. But since it’s not a real withdrawal, the US troops are at risk of coming under attack by Iraq’s Shia militias or other forces in the country opposed to the US presence.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of CENTCOM, recognized that leaving US troops in Iraq puts them at risk of being attacked. Considering ISIS no longer holds significant territory, the continued US presence does little but creates a tripwire for further conflict.
The Iraqi government has been under pressure to expel US forces since January 2020, when the US assassinated Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by drone strike in Baghdad. After the strike, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to kick out the US.