US troop withdrawal from Iraq would affect security, Iraqi officials say

The 3,000 US forces stationed in Iraq are expected to be scaled down to 2,500 before the end of the year

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Iraqi officials expressed concern on Tuesday over the expected announcement of a further US troop withdrawal from the country.

US President Donald Trump is expected to give a formal order to military officials this week to begin pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, scaling forces down to 2,500 in both countries before the end of the year.

At present there are about 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq.

US officials said military leaders were told over the weekend about the planned withdrawals and that an executive order is in the pipeline but has not yet been delivered to commanders.

"It will affect Iraq's security immediately, in a negative way," Sarkwat Shamsi, a member of parliament, told The National.

“What is important to the Iraqi government is US policy, how they handle their tensions with regional countries, so it's more of a logistical issue than a political one,” Mr Shamsi said.

Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington since Mr Trump withdrew from a landmark multilateral nuclear deal nearly two years ago.

Mr Trump's administration has exerted mounting pressure on Iran in a dispute that began as a war of words but quickly escalated into more serious confrontations.

Politicians in Iraq voted in parliament for the departure of foreign forces after the death of Iranian Gen Qassem Suleimani and senior Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis in a US drone strike in Baghdad in January.

US slashes troop numbers in Iraq

US slashes troop numbers in Iraq

For months, Iran-backed militias stationed in Iraq targeted US troops and personnel in response.

Iraq, which has strong ties with Washington and Tehran, has repeatedly said it is working to ease the situation between the two sides but rejects any confrontation on its land.

"If the troop withdrawal occurs it will leave Iraq in the hands of Hashed Al Shaabi and Iranian proxy and forces," a Kurdish government official told The National.

The Hashed Al Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, is a network of paramilitary units, some of which are backed by Iran.

It was formed during the battle against ISIS.

“We have been campaigning since 2011 for US troops to remain and are strongly against kicking out the international coalition,” the official said. The US and Nato assisted Iraqi and Kurdish forces in combating ISIS, he said.

The withdrawal of foreign forces “will deteriorate the current dispute between Iraqi political parties and components”. he said.

Washington holds Tehran responsible for a series of attacks on its troops in Iraq and has placed sanctions on the country’s economy, highlighting their support of armed groups in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and its affiliate Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq.

Yet Iran-backed militias in Iraq said they are suspicious of the announcement made by US officials to reduce their forces.

"We do not trust the American administration and its statements," Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohie told The National.

Since March, the US-led coalition has handed over a number of military bases, including Taji, Basmaya and the Al Taqaddum Air Base to Iraqi officials, saying they are now fully capable of fighting ISIS.

“What needs to be done is a complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq,” Mr Mohie said.

“They have to respect the Iraqi people and parliament and leave all military bases and end their occupation,” Mr Mohie said, expressing the group's belief that there will be "procrastination from the American administration because it doesn’t respect Iraqis and the government”.