MOSUL – In a quest to root out Islamic State group hideouts over the summer, Iraqi forces on the ground cleared nearly 90 villages across a notoriously unruly northern province. But the much-touted operation still relied heavily on U.S. intelligence, coalition flights and planning assistance.
While the planned U.S. troop drawdown in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 by mid-January is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the campaign against IS remnants, there are concerns that further withdrawals could set the stage for another resurgence of the extremist group.
Although Iraqi forces have become more independent in combat missions, the country is reeling from ongoing anti-government protests, rampant corruption and political divisions that reach into the security apparatus. All of that means foreign support is still crucial.
There are already signs of a possible Islamic State comeback as the group exploits security gaps widened by a year of protests and the pandemic. It's a worrying trend for Iraq’s security forces, whose collapse in 2014 allowed IS to seize a third of the country and sent American troops rushing back less than three years after they had withdrawn.
So how could the American drawdown help IS and Iran? Here are three key ways.
1. SECURITY COULD WORSEN
American forces returned at the invitation of the government after IS seized much of northern and western Iraq, including its second largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces, including Iran-backed militias, regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.