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Iraq’s Prime Minister Calls for Departure of U.S.-Led Military Coalition

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mohammed al-Sudani, has asserted that the U.S.-led military coalition, which has been assisting Iraq in countering Islamic State militants, is no longer required. This statement comes amid strained relations between Iraq and the U.S. over the Gaza conflict. While al-Sudani did not specify a deadline for the coalition’s departure, he expressed a desire for a strong bilateral relationship with the United States.

End of Justifications for the Coalition

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Al-Sudani conveyed his belief that the justifications for the international coalition’s presence in Iraq have ceased to exist. The coalition was established in 2014 to mentor and support Iraqi forces in regaining control of their country after the onslaught of Islamic State militants.

Iraqi Dissatisfaction with U.S. Policy on Gaza

During an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, al-Sudani expressed dissatisfaction with American policy regarding the Gaza conflict. He criticized the West for not addressing the Palestinian situation adequately and called for more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end what he labeled as genocide.

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Mixed Response to U.S. Actions

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Al-Sudani condemned attacks by Iranian-backed militias on U.S. forces in Iraq while also denouncing a recent U.S. drone strike in Baghdad as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

U.S. View on Coalition Adjustments

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U.S. officials have acknowledged the possibility of adjustments to the international coalition, which includes approximately 900 troops from multiple countries alongside 2,500 American troops. However, they have cautioned against a premature withdrawal, citing concerns about stability in the Middle East and the resurgence of Islamic State.

Al-Sudani’s Confidence in Iraqi Military

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Al-Sudani expressed confidence in Iraq’s security forces, asserting that they can maintain control throughout the country. He specifically mentioned the Iraqi-Syrian border as being under complete control.

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U.S. Response to Al-Sudani’s Remarks

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The U.S. National Security Council (NSC) indicated its readiness to engage in discussions with al-Sudani regarding the future of the U.S.-led coalition. The NSC mentioned the merit of transitioning to bilateral arrangements after a decade of coalition efforts.

Al-Sudani’s Political Balancing Act

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The call for the coalition’s departure reflects a shift in al-Sudani’s position since the previous year when he stated that foreign troops were still necessary for training and assisting Iraqi units against Islamic State. This change reflects the growing pressure on al-Sudani from hardliners in Iraq, some supported by Iran, who demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Desire for a Bilateral Relationship

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Al-Sudani’s proposal to replace the coalition with a bilateral relationship with the U.S. allows him to negotiate the departure of foreign forces while preserving a yet-to-be-defined military relationship that could include the presence of American troops.

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Political Constraints on Al-Sudani

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The prime minister faces challenges from powerful figures in Iraq, including Moqtada al-Sadr and the Coordination Framework, which is predominantly composed of Shiite parties supported by Iran. These groups have varying stances on the U.S. military presence.

U.S. Military Presence in Iraq

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The current U.S. military presence in Iraq is significantly smaller than the force that was stationed in the country during the American occupation in 2007. Despite its size, this presence is vital for U.S. security interests in the region, including logistical support for troops in neighboring Syria.

Support Provided by U.S. Forces

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U.S. forces play a crucial role in advising and training Iraqi Security Forces. They assist in target identification, artillery usage, air operations, logistics, and command and control. Additionally, the coalition supports Iraq’s air force through reconnaissance efforts.

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Countering Iranian Pressure

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Efforts to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Iraqi military are aimed at countering Iran’s agenda of pressuring the U.S. military to leave the Middle East.

Impact of Coalition Departure

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A premature departure of the U.S.-led coalition could reduce international support for Iraqi forces and undermine their capabilities. Congress has allocated over $300 million to equip and train Iraqi forces for counter-Islamic State missions in 2023.

Postponed Talks on Coalition’s Future

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Discussions about the future of the coalition were postponed due to the Gaza conflict and attacks on U.S. forces by Iranian-backed militias. Sudani has been pressing for talks to resume.

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Strained Relations with Iran

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Recent tensions between Iraq and Iran escalated after Iran claimed responsibility for firing ballistic missiles at an alleged Israeli intelligence base in Northern Iraq, a claim Baghdad denied. Discussions between Sudani and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan covered these developments.

Historical Context

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The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq has been a contentious issue since the 2003 invasion. In 2011, negotiations between then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and then-President Barack Obama failed to secure an agreement for the continued deployment of U.S. forces, leading to their withdrawal and eventual return in 2014 to counter Islamic State.

Continued U.S. Support Role

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The U.S. declared an end to its combat mission in 2021 but continued to support Iraqi forces. This support is considered essential for the continued development of Iraqi security capabilities.

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