Urging Washington to consider troops' withdrawal

Former U.S. official expresses concerns over Iraq’s security capabilities

NEWSROOM – Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker expressed doubts about the Iraqi government’s ability to safeguard U.S. diplomatic staff, suggesting a potential withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq should Baghdad’s commitment to their presence falter.

In an interview with the U.S.-based journalist Hadeel Oueis, followed by 964media, Schenker noted that Iran had understood the recent messages from Washington, leading to a cessation of activities by pro-Iran armed factions, with the exception of the Houthis in Yemen.

“Baghdad should act as a sovereign state, but we know it doesn’t because of the [armed] factions present [there]. There are 100,000 fighters not compliant with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al-Sudani,” Schenker remarked.

In response to ongoing attacks by Iraqi armed factions on U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, Washington launched strikes on key targets, notably those of the Kata’ib Hezbollah group, to assert that “American blood is not cheap”, said Schenker.

In light of ongoing attacks by Iraqi armed factions on U.S. troops, Schenker emphasized the need for Washington to reassess its military presence in Iraq and explore alternative strategies.
He said the nearly 2,500 U.S. soldiers based in Iraq are targets for Iran and its allies in the region amid Iraqi government’s inability to protect those forces.

Schenker believes it is possible to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq and use other means available to achieve the same purpose, working to encourage the Iraqi government to be a sovereign state.
“The Iraqi government may need some help, but the number of [U.S.] forces there does not serve our interests, especially regarding Iran’s attempt to exert regional dominance,” he said. “The Iraqi government not only invited us but pleaded for partnership to send our forces after Obama withdrew, and a third of Iraq fell, with Baghdad nearly falling to ISIS. If the Iraqi government doesn’t want us, we should withdraw.”

Noting that the Iraqi government had not fulfilled its obligations under the Geneva Convention to safeguard U.S. diplomatic staff in Iraq, Schenker advocated for the continued presence of only a small U.S. force to ensure the protection of the country’s embassy in Baghdad.

Amid pressure from pro-Iran factions to remove U.S. forces from Iraq, both the Iraqi and U.S. governments have initiated fresh discussions in recent months to reevaluate the structure of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and enhance security cooperation. Despite this, Washington has asserted its stance of not withdrawing troops from Iraq under external pressure.

Schenker emphasized Washington’s influence on Iraq, highlighting the significant hard currency transfers amounting to billions of dollars provided monthly by the U.S. Treasury.

He said that Washington grants Iraq exceptions from sanctions to facilitate trade relations with Iran.

Schenker also highlighted the potential for Iraq to benefit from investments and partnerships with American companies. He suggested that economic growth in Iraq could be fostered through relations with the United States, emphasizing the importance of creating a productive and stable environment free from dominance by Iran.