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An Iraqi graffiti artist sprays a cement wall with anti-Trump slogans in Basra. Photo: Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP via Getty Images

As the U.S. begins to withdraw troops from Syria, some Iraqi leaders are now demanding the same for their country, even as ISIS is making a comeback.

The big picture: Iraqi politicians and military leaders are divided on the presence of U.S. military forces in the country. Those wanting them out include Shi’a militias under the control of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which wants to gain more power, as well as Muqtada al-Sadr, the maverick cleric whose winning coalition in the May 12 national election gained popular support by running on pledge to secure the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country.

Background: The U.S. had the greatest number of troops stationed in Iraq in 2007 during the “surge,” more than 165,000. Four years later, the number had decreased to 40,000, with the last major contingent withdrawing in December 2011.

What's new: Many Iraqis saw President Trump’s unannounced December visit as a violation of their country’s sovereignty. Secretary of State Pompeo’s January trip was less controversial, but his push for the remaining 5,200 American troops to stay galvanized politicians who want them out.

  • Some Iraqi leaders say they no longer need the U.S. to fight ISIS, as they did in 2014 and 2015. They hold the U.S. 2003 invasion partially responsible for ISIS' ability to seize one-fourth of Iraq’s territory.
  • Leading clerics, many of whom have become increasingly nationalistic, have also called for less foreign influence in the country.

The other side: Some Iraqi politicians and Iraqi army officials believe they need U.S. troops to prevent an ISIS resurgence. Others are focused on Iranian, rather than U.S., influence, following protests last year during which thousands of Iraqi Shia took to the streets in Basra and Najaf to call for the expulsion of Iranian forces from the country.

  • For its part, the U.S. military believes troops are needed to defeat ISIS, counter the influence of Iranian-backed militias, and deter Iranian encroachment from the west, most especially following a U.S. drawdown from Syria.

The bottom line: The issue of the U.S. troop presence is dividing the Iraqi military and Iraqi politicians alike. Expect the debate to intensify as Iranian-aligned militias and some politicians seek to mobilize the Iraqi electorate against the continued presence of U.S. forces, especially if the U.S. Syrian withdrawal proceeds.

Geneive Abdo is a resident scholar at the Arabia Foundation.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congressman criminally charged with lying to feds

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has been indicted on charges he falsified records and lied to federal investigators probing an illegal foreign donation scheme, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

Driving the news: DOJ says a Fortenberry associate, who later cooperated with investigators, informed him he'd likely received illegal donations from an intermediary for a foreign national, but that Fortenberry denied any knowledge of such a scheme when contacted by the FBI.

"Assassin's Creed," but for schools

"Viking Age: Discovery Tour." Image via Ubisoft

For the third time since 2018, Ubisoft is releasing a nonviolent version of its latest “Assassin’s Creed” game as part of a unique effort to turn one of the medium’s most popular series into an educational tool.

Driving the news:Viking Age: Discovery Tour” transforms last year’s “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” from a bloody 150-hour game about Viking conquest in 9th century England into a peaceful four-hour game about merchants and monks.

School enrollment fell by almost 3 million from 2019 to 2020

Kindergarten student Natalia Bayoumi holds the hand of her father Amir Bayoumi as he walks to the front door of Normont Elementary School in Harbor City, CA. Photo: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The number of individuals enrolled in the U.S. education system dropped by 2.9 million from 2019 to 2020, according to new data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.

Why it matters: This marks the lowest level of school enrollment for those under 35 years-old in over 20 years, per the Census Bureau.