Are U.S. Troops in Iraq Staying or Going? Depends Who You Ask.

Is the U.S. drawing down its military presence in Iraq, following a declaration of victory over ISIS? Messages from Iraqi and U.S. spokesmen are muddled:

  • An Iraqi government spokesman said Monday the U.S. has begun to reduce the number of its troops in-country. An unnamed senior official close to Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tells the AP that, according to an initial agreement reached with Washington, 60 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq will be withdrawn, leaving about 4,000 to continue training the Iraqi military.
  • The Iraqi government spokesman spokesman Saad al-Hadithi framed this to the AP as “a message to those who doubt the government’s decisions regarding the presence of American (forces in Iraq): There are rules and the promise of a withdrawal.”
  • However, the Pentagon insists no drawdown is taking place. Spokesmen for U.S. Central Command told Voice of America that a “small number” of troops have shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, and a “reallocation of combat enablers” is taking place, but the numbers of American forces in Iraq remain about the same.

With Iraqi elections slated for May, and the indefinite presence of U.S. troops a divisive issue domestically, a drawdown would be both unsurprising and smart politics. Cipher Brief expert and former Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said the drawdown is to be expected:

“The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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