Washington has had a continuous presence in Iraq since its 2003 invasion. Although all U.S. combat forces left in 2011, thousands of troops returned in 2014 to help the government of Iraq defeat IS.

Since the extremist group lost its hold on the territory it once seized, Iraqi officials have periodically called for a withdrawal of coalition forces, particularly in the wake of a U.S. airstrike in January 2020 that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis outside the Baghdad airport.

The issue has surfaced again since Israel launched its major counteroffensive in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in southern Israel.

Since mid-October, a group of Iran-backed militias calling itself the Islamic Resistance in Iraq have launched regular attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, which the group said are in retaliation for Washington’s support for Israel in the war in Gaza.


Why do Iraqi officials repeatedly called for the withdrawal of coalition forces in Iraq? The article mentions that U.S. military activities is part of the blame, but I am wondering why Iraqi officials would want the U.S. to leave the region when the Iraqi government may not have adequate forces to deal with Iran and Iran-backed terrorist in the region.

  • 3
    Is there any reason you think Iraq needs some kind of force to"deal with Iran"? The two governments are on pretty good terms as I understand it, and have e.g. border security agreements to co-operate with regards to cross-border kurdish attacks. Iran-backed terrorist" are active against the US, not Iraq. And on Shia / Sunni issues, Iraq and Iran are on the same side (both majority Shia)
    – PhillS
    Commented Mar 22 at 7:01
  • Iran is an US enemy, not Iraq's, and Iraq doesn't want to be dragged to a US-Iran war fought to the life of the last Iraqi just like the West is fighting Russia to the life of the last Ukrainian.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Mar 22 at 10:52
  • In general, having foreign troops on your territory is extremely unpopular, unless they are genuinely welcomed by a large majority of your population. This is much less the case in Iraq than it is in Japan, which still sees periodic calls to remove the Okinawa bases. Therefore this Q's answer seems to be self-evident from the start. Commented Mar 22 at 15:58
  • @Rekesoft the various Iran-Iraq wars over the years show that they are not exactly on friendly terms.
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 22 at 21:51
  • @JoeW France has had much more wars against England and Germany than Iraq and Iran have had, but I would rule out the prospect of an inminent attack now. Relationships change.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Mar 25 at 7:36

1 Answer 1


It is somewhat complicated as the calls often flare up when the US-PMF clashes intensify.

Suffice to say that the current parliament and government of Iraq are somewhat dominated by the pro-Iran factions, who see the US forces as a necessary evil in the fight against what's left of ISIS, at best.

Oct. 27, 2022

Iraq’s Parliament chose Mohammed al-Sudani as prime minister Thursday, aligning Baghdad more closely with Iran amid deep public unrest over rampant corruption and a lack of jobs. Mr. Sudani and his cabinet were approved under tight security, breaking a yearlong impasse between a bloc of Iranian-backed factions that endorsed him and supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric whose followers delayed the formation of the government for months with violent protests and gunbattles outside the parliament building. Mr. Sadr’s faction won the most votes in last October’s election, but he and his bloc withdrew from the political process after he failed to form a coalition.

Al Sudani was not initially overtly against the US troops, but was rather lukewarm to their presence:

Mr. Sudani has little international experience, and U.S. officials have been scrambling to understand if his selection will shift Iraq’s foreign and security policy. He appears likely to preserve a military partnership with Washington that has shrunk to small-scale training of Iraqi troops and a presence of less than 2,500 American forces that the Biden administration has kept in Iraq, mostly in Kurdish areas near the city of Erbil, to deter Islamic State’s re-emergence. In a political manifesto made public Thursday, Mr. Sudani promised dialogue about the presence of international forces in Iraq, a reference to the U.S. and other countries with small military contingents in Iraq.

But in the meantime with the US-PMF clashes intensifying [during the Gaza war], both the parliament and Al-Soudani have called for the US troops to withdraw. How serious this demand is, and whether it's just a negotiation tactic, is somewhat hard to say, as the official negotiations on the future of US troops there is still ongoing, and the US doesn't seem at all interested in leaving.

January 10, 2024

"There is a need to reorganise this relationship so that it is not a target or justification for any party, internal or foreign, to tamper with stability in Iraq and the region," Sudani told Reuters in an interview in Baghdad on Tuesday.

Giving the first details of his thinking about the future of the coalition since his Jan. 5 announcement that Iraq would begin the process of closing it down, Sudani said the exit should be negotiated under "a process of understanding and dialogue". "Let's agree on a time frame (for the coalition's exit) that is, honestly, quick, so that they don't remain long and the attacks keep happening," he said, noting that only an end to Israel's war on Gaza would stop the risk of regional escalation. "This (end of the Gaza war) is the only solution. Otherwise, we will see more expansion of the arena of conflict in a sensitive region for the world that holds much of its energy supply," Sudani said.

A U.S. withdrawal would likely increase concern in Washington about the influence of arch foe Iran over Iraq's ruling elite. Iran-backed Shi'ite groups gained strength in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The Pentagon on Monday said it had no plans to withdraw U.S. troops, which are in Iraq at the invitation of its government. Iraq, OPEC's second-largest oil producer, has been among the fiercest critics of Israel's Gaza campaign, describing the mass killing and displacement of Palestinian civilians as a textbook case of genocide, claims Israel vehemently denies.

But Iraq's government has repeatedly also said the attacks by armed groups on foreign forces and diplomatic missions in Iraq were illegal and went against the country's interests, and says it has arrested some perpetrators and prevented attacks. At the same time, Baghdad has condemned U.S. strikes on bases used by the groups, as well as a recent strike against a senior militia commander in the heart of Baghdad, as grave violations of sovereignty.

Critics say the armed groups, including Kataeb Hezbollah and Haraket Hezbollah al-Nujaba, use their status as members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state security force that began as a grouping of militias in 2014, as a cover.

When striking at U.S. forces, they operate outside the chain of command under the banner of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq; when the U.S. retaliates, they mourn their losses as members of the PMF and reap the rewards of rising anti-U.S. sentiment.

U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq and toppled former leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, withdrawing in 2011 but then returning in 2014 to fight Islamic State as part of an international coalition. The U.S. currently has some 2,500 troops in Iraq. With Islamic State territorially defeated in 2017 and on the demise ever since, Sudani said the coalition's raison d'etre had long-since ended. [...]

But calls for the coalition's withdrawal have been around for years and, so far, little has changed. Iraq's parliament in 2020 voted for its departure days after the U.S. assassinated top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militant commander in a strike outside Baghdad airport.

The next year, the U.S. announced the end of its combat mission, opens new tab in Iraq and a shift to advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, a move that changed little on the ground. The Gaza war has put the issue back in centre stage, with many Iraqi groups that brought Sudani's government to power and are close to Tehran calling for the final exit of all foreign forces, a move long sought by Iran and its regional allies.


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