The decision to reduce the number of US troops deployed in Iraq raised fears that Iran could exploit the vacuum to extend its complete control over the Iraqi street, in addition to concerns over the possibility of ISIS reviving its sleeper cells to carry out more operations in the country.
Senior Iraqi military officials in Baghdad said that the withdrawal of 500 US soldiers from Iraq would not have a major impact on the security; but some political leaders - especially from the Sunni and Kurdish circles – expressed concern that reducing the number of US troops in Iraq, if followed by further withdrawals, would affect the region’s security and political balance.
Christopher Miller, Acting Secretary of Defense, announced on Nov. 17 that the United States would reduce the number of its troops from 3,000 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, 2021.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, MP Mohammed Nuri Abd-Rabbu, deputy for the Nineveh governorate, said: “The US forces in Iraq have superior technologies, such as thermal cameras, drones, satellite images, etc., that enable them to monitor any movements of ISIS and prevent planned terrorist operations.”
Regarding the impact of the US forces’ withdrawal of American troops on the Iraqi political arena, Abd-Rabbu said: “Everyone knows that there are two forces controlling Iraq, namely the US and Iran; the decrease in the American forces will inevitably lead to strengthening the Iranian power, which controls a large part of Iraq, like Nineveh, Anbar and Salah al-Din.”
Security sources have stressed the possibility of Iran, through its proxies in Iraq, to carry out targeted operations against US interests in the country, in response to the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, by US forces last year.
“Intelligence information indicates that loyalist factions in the Popular Mobilization Forces are planning to carry out operations targeting US interests on the anniversary of the killing of the Iranian (Revolutionary Guard) commander, Qassem Soleimani,” the sources said, noting that Iran also wanted to respond indirectly to the killing of the Iranian nuclear scientist Tahseen Fakhrizadeh.
For his part, Major General Bakhtiar Ali, a counselor at the Peshmerga Ministry, said that the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq would have a direct impact on the role of the international coalition forces against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and would negatively affect the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, including the Peshmerga, in the fight against the terrorist group.