Weighing U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Iraq

Executive Summary

In this Perspective, we assess the possible strategic risks associated with U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq and recommend policies to help the United States meet its strategic objectives in the Middle East. As of early 2020, the United States has several thousand military personnel in Iraq providing direct combat assistance to Iraqi secu-rity services and to U.S. forces in eastern Syria. Following the targeted killing of Iranian Major General Qassim Suleimani in January 2020, the Iraqi parliament passed a nonbinding measure calling for the ejection of foreign—and primarily U.S.—military forces from Iraq. This vote, and the concurrent rise in tensions with Iran, reignited the debate over the purpose of the U.S. military mission in Iraq. Why is the United States engaged in Iraq? What is the purpose of sustaining a military footprint there? What would happen if the Iraqi government expelled U.S. military forces, or if they were willingly withdrawn? If the U.S. military remains in Iraq, what should constitute this presence?

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