Iraqi officials privately signal they want US forces to stay

Iraq’s willingness to keep U.S. troops in the country is critical for the Biden administration. The U.S. sees its presence in Iraq as important for not only preventing a resurgence of ISIS but also for countering Iranian influence in the region. Any decision by al-Sudani to kick American forces out of the country could also undermine the administration’s effort to prevent the war in Gaza from widening.

While U.S. officials have been told that Iraq is willing to discuss keeping American forces in the country, it is possible that political machinations inside the Iraqi parliament force him to take steps to remove American forces.

The National Security Council declined to comment on the cable. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The Jan. 4 strike — which was in retaliation for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria — killed the militant known as Abu-Taqwa, the leader of Harakat al-Nujaba, an Iran-backed militia group that is technically part of Iraq’s security forces. Iran-aligned groups in Iraq quickly demanded the government kick out American troops in response.

The Pentagon has said it has no plans to withdraw forces from Iraq, and was not aware of any notification by the Iraqi government to ask it to do so.

“We’re there at the invitation of the government of Iraq,” Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday. “I’m not aware of any notifications by the Iraqi government to the Department of Defense.”

This is not the first time the Iraqi government has claimed it would kick out American troops. In January 2020, in response to the U.S. military’s killing of senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, the Iraqi parliament voted on a
resolution to end the U.S. military presence
in Iraq. However, this was never enforced.

The Pentagon has long maintained that U.S. troops are in Iraq for the sole purpose of ensuring ISIS does not return, and that they have a close relationship with Iraqi security forces. At the end of 2021, the two governments announced the plan to
shift to a purely advisory role
, marking the official end of the U.S. military’s combat mission in the country.

However, this was mostly a symbolic gesture: the U.S. still has roughly 2,500 troops in Iraq, along with 900 in Syria, focused on ISIS.

Still, the U.S.-Iraq relationship is increasingly under pressure since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Since Israel invaded Gaza, Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq and Syria have launched drones and rockets against U.S. troops there more than 120 times.

Three service-members were wounded
, one critically, in a Christmas Day drone attack in Iraq. Iranian-backed militia group Kataib Hezbollah claimed credit for the attack.