Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi’s Friday declaration that U.S. combat troops will not remain in the country after the Islamic State is defeated could spark a future showdown with the Trump administration.
President Donald Trump repeatedly criticized former President Barack Obama’s 2010 decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq during the 2016 campaign. Trump reaffirmed this position in a March meeting with Abadi telling him “certainly, we shouldn’t have left. We should never ever have left,” adding “a vacuum was created, and we discussed what happened.”
Abadi moderated his comments saying that the only U.S. troops who should remain would provide training assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to maintain “full readiness” in case of “future security challenges.”
Critics of Obama say his decision to withdraw from Iraq let the government pursue its worst sectarian impulses, undermined the ISF and alienated key parts of the Sunni population. These sectarian impulses along with the Syrian civil war created the perfect conditions for the rise of ISIS, which the U.S. did not see coming because it had no troops in the country.
Obama’s defenders say he had little choice but to withdraw as the status of forces agreement with Iraq was expiring in 2010, which would have opened American troops to prosecution in Iraqi courts for alleged crimes. They also argue that the Iraqis clearly did not want U.S. troops in the country any longer.
U.S. and Iraqi officials told the Associated Press they generally agree some U.S. contingent should stay behind after ISIS is defeated, but what exactly they will do is still in question.
In any event, the end of the campaign to defeat ISIS could still be months or years away. Iraq’s generals say the nearly seven month operation to retake Mosul from ISIS should be wrapped up within three weeks. Mosul is the last city ISIS controls in Iraq, but experts warn that the terrorist group could still be a formidable opponent by mounting a insurgency.
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