US role in Iraq five years since military withdrawal
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.