US role in Iraq five years since military withdrawal

Sunday 25/12/2016
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter

Baghdad - Five years since the US mili­tary completed its with­drawal from Iraq, Ameri­can forces are once again playing a major role in the country as part of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS).

Here are three key questions on the fifth anniversary of US troops leaving Iraq.

Why did US forces leave in 2011?

After a nearly nine-year presence, negotiations on the United States leaving a residual training force in Iraq after the end of 2011 broke down over the issue of American forces having legal immunity from Iraqi prosecution, which Washing­ton demanded and Baghdad was re­luctant to provide.

The United States then announced that American forces would depart, an operation that was completed on December 18th, 2011, when the last convoy of armoured vehicles crossed into neighbouring Kuwait.

The withdrawal brought po­litical benefits to both Washington and Baghdad: US President Barack Obama wanted to end the Iraq war, which he had opposed, and the withdrawal also allowed then-prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s govern­ment to claim credit for ending the unpopular American presence in the country.

Some American military person­nel and contractors remained in Iraq under US embassy authority as part of the Office of Security Coopera­tion-Iraq, which worked with train­ing the country’s forces and helping it field US military equipment.

What went wrong?

Prior to the withdrawal, American officials repeatedly stated that Iraqi forces were ready to handle inter­nal security but unrest worsened considerably in the years after their departure, culminating in the disas­trous ISIS offensive in 2014.

One of the main reasons for the ris­ing violence was widespread anger among Iraq’s Sunni Arab communi­ty, members of which complained of being marginalised and targeted by the Shia-led government.

This anger, which was stoked by military raids and detentions in Sunni areas, efforts to arrest sev­eral prominent Sunni politicians and a sometimes heavy-handed re­sponse to anti-government protests, increased sympathy for militant groups and made it easier for them to operate.

US officials said Iraqi forces did not carry out the necessary train­ing to maintain their readiness after American forces left, a view cor­roborated in an Iraqi parliamentary report on causes of the fall of second city Mosul to ISIS.

The civil war in neighbouring Syr­ia, which broke out in 2011, provided a key safe haven for jihadists to re­group, expand their ranks, train and gain combat experience.

What are US forces doing in Iraq now?

American military forces are car­rying out air and artillery strikes against ISIS in Iraq as part of a US-led coalition against the jihadists and have provided training, advice and other assistance to Baghdad’s forces.

American special forces personnel have also fought ISIS on the ground and three members of the US mili­tary have been killed in the country.

There are about 5,000 American military personnel in Iraq, the coali­tion said.