Updated Jan 10, 2020

Iraqi PM asks Pompeo to send delegation to plan U.S. troop withdrawal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in January 2019. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday that the U.S. should send delegates to Iraq in order to determine the best way to withdraw all of its troops there, the AP reports.

The big picture: While tensions between the U.S. and Iran seem to be lessening, Abul-Mahdi is standing his ground and backing the Iraqi parliament's non-binding resolution to expel all U.S. troops from the country.

  • Iraq was the proxy battleground between the U.S. and Iran — with the storming of the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad, the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian retaliation against U.S. bases all taking place on its soil.

Why it matters: A U.S. exit from Iraq could ultimately be one of the most consequential results of the escalation in U.S.-Iran tensions, because it would significantly hamper the fight against ISIS and achieve a major Iranian objective.

  • In a statement, Abdul-Mahdi's office said Iraq rejects all violations against its sovereignty and asked Pompeo to "send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq."
  • Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has previously said U.S. troops will not be leaving Iraq, despite a snafu earlier this week over a "poorly worded" letter that seemed to indicate a withdrawal.

The other side: The State Department issued a statement rebuffing Abdul-Mahdi's request, saying, "At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East."

  • "Our military presence in Iraq is to continue the fight against ISIS and as the Secretary has said, we are committed to protecting Americans, Iraqis, and our coalition partners."

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NYT: U.S. resumes military operations with Iraq

A U.S. soldier walks past a drone on Jan. 13 during a press tour at the Ayn al Asad air base in Iraq. Photo: Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images

American troops resumed joint military operations with Iraq on Wednesday, the New York Times reports, citing two anonymous U.S. military officials.

Why it matters: Operations are rebooting two weeks after thousands of protesters and militia fighters swarmed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad protesting U.S. airstrikes in the country, which predated the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

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Biden: "I would leave troops in the Middle East"

As tensions remain high between the U.S. and Iran, former Vice President Joe Biden said he would leave troops in the Middle East to continue fighting ISIS, and accused President Trump of lying about Iran's imminent attack against American embassies to keep troops in the region.

"I think it's a mistake to pull out the small number of troops that are there now to deal with ISIS. What's happened is, now that he's gone ahead, the president and started this whole process moving, what's happening?"
 "We -- ISIS is going to reconstitute itself. We're in a position where we have to pull our forces out. Americans have to leave the entire region. And quite frankly, I think [Trump has] flat-out lied about saying that the reason he went after -- the reason he made the strike was because our embassies were about to be bombed."
— Former Vice President Joe Biden
Go deeperArrowJan 15, 2020

Pentagon: 34 U.S. troops suffered brain injuries following Iran attack

The Ain al-Asad U.S. military airbase in Iraq nearly a week after Iran launched a wave of missiles. Photo: Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images

During a press conference Friday, Department of Defense spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman announced 34 U.S. troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries following Iran's attack on U.S. bases in Iraq on Jan. 7.

The state of play: Hoffman confirmed 8 of the 34 troops have returned to the U.S., while 16 of the injured were treated in Iraq and have returned to service. Iran's attack came after a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Go deeper: Trump says "all is well" after Iranian strikes on bases hosting U.S. troops

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