US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced on Monday, January 6, that the US has not decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq, despite a letter sent by the American commander of Task Force Iraq to the Iraqi government which seemed to convey that the US coalition would scale back its operations and "reposition" troops. The Pentagon clarified that instead what the letter meant to convey is increased troop movement.
This update comes just one day after the Iraqi Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution requesting that the Iraqi government expel all foreign troops from the country. The resolution may end an agreement under which the US sent forces to Iraq to fight the Islamic State (IS) over four years ago.
Heightened tensions are to be expected in Iraq over the near term. Increased security measures are to be anticipated in Baghdad, including at Baghdad International Airport (BGW), over the coming days. Attacks targeting US personnel and assets remain possible as Iran has vowed revenge for Soleimani's killing.
The US Department of Defense released a statement on January 3 claiming responsibility for an airstrike targeting and killing Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force, near Baghdad International Airport (BGW) the same day. According to the statement, Soleimani was "actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region." Notably, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was also killed in the strike. The situation remains fluid.
Individuals across Iraq are advised to closely monitor developments, avoid all demonstrations, and adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities and their home governments.
The security environment in Iraq remains complex. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to all travel.