Reportedly, President Trump has threatened Iraq with sanctions if they expel US troops.

I don't understand the threat. It's not like military aggressors ask nicely before invading or occupying other countries (they might ask non-nicely). Unless there are resources to be stolen or populations to be enslaved, it's also not like they have a fair chance to be reimbursed for the costs of invading and occupying a country after destroying its infrastructure in a war. Why would the USA comply to leave a country when they clearly did not seek that countries' permission before going there in the first place? I suppose it's easier for the USA to maintain presence in Iraq if they don't need to fight the locals, but it's not like anybody has the power to make them leave — nor can they realistically use sanction to force the locals to like them.

Or is he saying that the sanctions are just for the request, which will either way not be honoured?

  • Isn't the US in Iraq on Iraq's invitation (at least in recent times, but before the most recent events)? I think they are part of a coalition of countries that helps train Iraqi soldiers and police.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 23:03
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica The US invaded Iraq, replaced its regime by a US-friendly one, which then "welcomed" the US. They could do that with almost any country in the world (and, in many cases, have).
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 8:39

2 Answers 2


Although the US invaded Iraq which ultimately led to the creation of the bases currently there, the forces now in country are there with the permission of the current Iraqi government, which the US is at peace with.

There is a massive world of difference between having a military base in a country at with the permission of that country versus having one as an invading force. The question really comes down to how much force the Iraqi government would be prepared to use to remove the US bases if the US doesn't remove them willingly. It is obvious that the Iraqis could overrun any US military presence currently in the country in short order if that is what they wanted to do - these bases aren't remotely set up to be strongpoints engaged in 360 degree active combat with a hostile force and supplied purely by airlift from a neighbouring country. They exist with the logistical and security support of the Iraqi government.

Basically, the existing bases are undefendable, and if the US is going to insist on acting like an occupying invasion force in hostile territory, the bases are toast. The US would have to mount a full scale invasion like in 2003 to destroy the Iraqi military and government en masse in order to secure those bases, and it simply can't do that in the timescale that those bases would continue to exist for.

Politically, the US is going to have very few allies backing it up if Iraq asks the US to remove its bases and the US refuses. Probably no allies at all in fact, since the US would be clearly seen as the aggressor in this scenario.

Iraq serves as a useful, but not indispensible, base of operations for US actions in Syria and the middle east generally, although obviously there are plenty of bases in other countries in the region too. It is hard to see any upside for the US in violating Iraqi sovereignty to keep these bases (especially given that it can't keep them if Iraq is prepared to use force to remove them).

The US is already facing possible conflicts with Iran and North Korea, steadily escalating tensions with China particularly in the South China sea, and a certain degree of confrontation with Russia. Having bases in Iraq seized or fighting a war to regain control of the country and install a new puppet regime is not something the US wants to be dealing with right now when it is entirely avoidable.

  • 1
    I doubt any Iraqi PM would order military action against US bases, after what happened to the last Iraqi guy who did that. Also the Iraqi army is not terribly effective, having to rely on Iranian-sponsored militias in the fight against ISIS. The US has shown its willingness to strike back at the Iranian-sponsored militias in Iraq in the past and recently. So your claim that "the [US] bases are toast" seems exaggerated to me. Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 11:24
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    I doubt that Iraq would use military force to evict the US, but if they did, the any bases are toast. The US has around 5000 personnel in Iraq, and actually a fair number of those are on Iraqi bases doing training. The Iraqi army may not be very effective, but they can handle 5000 people dispersed around Iraqi bases in smallish groups (who could mostly be arrested in short order), and cutting off the few US bases from resupply.
    – PhillS
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 11:41
  • 3
    "there are plenty of bases in other countries in the region". You mean in nice friendly countries like Turkey? Although frankly it varies from week to week as to which countries the current US administration has upset the most. Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 16:30

Having [central] government permission might not make much of a difference in a post-Syria US diplomacy. (I'm alluding to US bases and troops in Syria, despite Assad's opposition.) Actually Pompeo has hinted that the US might regard the Mahdi government as not quite legitimate, and by extension its request.

Pompeo dismissed Abdul-Mahdi — who in November submitted his resignation to parliament amid mass anti-government protests — as the "acting prime minister," and charged that he was "under enormous threats from the very Iranian leadership that it is that we are pushing back against."

But whether foreign troop presence has Iraqi government approval might make a difference for the other NATO countries currently participating in Iraq. Their absence/departure would make the US look more isolated diplomatically.

The vote that the Iraqi parliament took was non-binding. It is for the Iraqi cabinet to ultimately pass on a formal request for the US to withdraw their forces. It looks like the US is trying to impress Mahdi to not take that final/official step, effectively neutering the initiative.

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