On Tuesday, the Department of Defense sent a letter to the prime minister of Iraq, complete with Arabic translation, announcing that U.S. forces would be withdrawn from bases inside Iraq. In fact, it sent it twice. However, the U.S. then gave the whoops! heard ‘round the world by claiming that the letter was just a draft and was sent by mistake. Whatever the truth about the U.S. announcement, it’s absolutely not a mistake that, a day earlier, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel American troops from its country. And it’s serious about that.
The idea of holding a vote to end the U.S. presence in Iraq had been floated in the Iraqi parliament multiple times. However, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi repeatedly blocked the progress of any such legislation. Then Donald Trump conducted a series of airstrikes against Shiite militia bases in Iraq and Syria on Dec. 29 over Abdul-Mahdi’s objections that the strikes were a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and threatened to increase tensions and violence.
When protesters and militia groups turned their attention to the U.S. embassy the next day, it wasn’t any show of threat from the United States that made them finally depart. It was a promise from Abdul-Mahdi that he would step out of the way of a vote on removing U.S. troops.
When Trump then assassinated Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani along with a number of Iraqi militia leaders just outside Baghdad airport, the prime minister didn’t just clear the way for the vote; he also supported it. That first nonbinding resolution passed the Iraqi parliament with a wide margin, as did another that declared every American soldier in Iraq a foreign terrorist. That puts American troops in the position of being very unwelcome guests embedded in bases that belong to Iraq—most of which contain far more Iraqi forces than American.
In a tweet, Donald Trump declared that U.S. forces would not leave Iraq until Iraq paid billions for a “very expensive” air base—a base it never asked for that was built for U.S. operations. But this time it’s Abdul-Mahdi who is ignoring Trump. On Friday the Iraqi prime minister sent notice that it’s time for America to get out of his country.
As NBC News reports, Abdul-Mahdi issued a statement on Friday saying that he had phoned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and instructed him to “send a delegation to Iraq” to plan the safe withdrawal of all U.S. troops. The reason, according to Abdul-Mahdi, is that Iraq will be safer when American forces are gone. Removing those forces will help Iraq “keep the best relations with its neighbors and friends” and protect ”all those present on Iraqi soil.”
Withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq is a goal that many have sought. Having no more American troops on the ground in the region would not be a bad thing. But Trump is leaving Iraq having destroyed relationships with both the Iraqi government and longtime Kurdish allies. America isn’t leaving—it’s being kicked out. And that’s never a good look.
Note to Pompeo: This decision isn’t imminent. It already been made.