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Report: US troops to resume anti-ISIS operations in Iraq after non-binding vote to remove them

U.S. Army Soldiers from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force-Iraq, man defensive positions at Forward Operating Base Union III, Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 31, 2019. (U.S. Army Photo by Maj. Charlie Dietz, Task Force-Iraq Public Affairs)
January 16, 2020

Despite a recent non-binding vote by the Iraqi parliament to expel U.S. troops from the country, joint operations between the U.S. and Iraq resumed on Wednesday.

Two U.S. military officials who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity said the U.S. plans to resume its mission in Iraq against ISIS as soon as possible after a 10-day pause. Those military officials said the U.S. is concerned the terror group may have treated news of the U.S. troop removal as a propaganda victory in order to fuel its resurgence.

The U.S. had paused operations for 10 days amid Iraqi backlash over the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani while the Quds Force general was in Iraq. Though the Iraqi parliament voted on a measure to push U.S. troops out of the country, it was the U.S. decision to suspend operations for the 10-day period.

The measure passed by Iraq’s parliament is non-binding, however.

Iraqi acting Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has also reportedly softened his views of the U.S. withdrawal. Mahdi had previously backed the parliament vote to remove U.S. troops and said the U.S. had violated its bilateral agreement with Iraq. Last week he called on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to send a delegation to Iraq to discuss the U.S. troop withdrawal.

On Wednesday, Mahdi suggested the a U.S. troop removal would follow “an appropriate timeline” suggesting the U.S. troops stationed in Iraq would not be immediately removed. Mahdi has also warned parliament that “ISIS has begun to reorganize and plan invasions and attacks.”

Iraq could continue to fight ISIS alone, but they may be limited in their counter-insurgency without the cover that U.S. air support has provided them.

Pompeo has reportedly remained adamant that U.S. troops would stay in Iraq to train Iraq’s military to combat ISIS and prevent the group’s resurgence.

Iraqi security officials also reportedly pushed for an option that would most limit the need for U.S. troops to withdraw.

According to prior New York Times reporting, Mahdi spoke with a security council to discuss three options for handling parliament’s call for the U.S. troop removal. Those options included an immediate withdrawal, a negotiated and slowed withdrawal and a third option to renegotiate the U.S.-Iraqi coalition agreements to allow some U.S. troops to stay. Mahdi reportedly favored the third option.

An apparent easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran may have helped soften the demands for U.S. troop removals. Iran had vowed “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death and did carry out missile strikes against U.S. coalition positions in Iraq last week. No U.S. personnel were killed in those missile attacks and President Donald Trump signaled his belief that Iran has since moved to stand down.