U.S. Troops Unlikely to Be Forced Out of Iraq Despite Calls for Their Expulsion, Analysts Say

Iraqis leaders have called for the expulsion of U.S. troops and a special session of parliament was convened on Sunday to discuss legislation that could call for their removal, following the targeted killings near the Baghdad airport on Friday of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

"What happened was a political assasination," Iraq's caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said in a Sunday address to the parliament, The Washington Post reported. "Iraq cannot accept this."

The parliament then voted to expel the U.S. troops, 170 to 0. However, many of the legislative body's 328 members did not attend. The legislation would be valid when it is signed by the prime minister, and it remains unclear how a U.S. withdrawal would move forward.

Despite the anger expressed by many Iraqi leaders, who have called the U.S. strikes an attack on their country's sovereignty, regional analysts told Newsweek that they doubt the U.S. troops will actually be forced to leave in the near future.

"The Iraqi parliament may vote to expel U.S. troops from Iraq, but I think the issue will get lost within the country's different branches of government," Hilal Khashan, a professor of political studies and public administration at the American University of Beirut, said ahead of the vote. "U.S. troops will stay in Iraq," he predicted.

Members of Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network carry pictures of their slain chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as his, Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and eight other coffins are carried towards the Imam Ali Shrine in the city of Najaf in central Iraq during a funeral procession on January 4 HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty

"Their departure would be a great victory for Iran and the death of Soleimani would be avenged," he asserted.

Beatrice Maneshi, the founder of the Netherlands-based Catalystas Consulting, had a similar perspective.

"I highly doubt that Iraq is going to ask the U.S. to leave because they are too financially dependent on them," she said. However, she warned that "time will tell" and that it will depend on whether further strikes are carried out within the next couple of days.

About 5,000 U.S. troops remain based in Iraq at the invitation of the country's government. Some Iraq politicians and President Donald Trump have urged a draw down of the U.S. force in the country for some time.

"Leaders in Iraq and President Trump have called for this. However, at the moment the region is as unstable as it might be, with Iran having serious domestic political problems," George Friedman, the founder and president of Geopolitical Futures told Newsweek last week before the Friday killings of Soleimani and al-Muhandis.

"The Iraqi people just want their country back. They don't want foreigners in their country whether that be Iran or the United States," Holly Dagres, nonresident fellow at Atlantic Council and editor of IranSource, said.

Although al-Muhandis, who served as the deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU)–an umbrella group of Iraqi militia groups that were officially incorporated into the Iraq military in the spring of 2018–was viewed by many as a proxy for Iran, his killing has been seen by Iraqis as an attack on their own country. Additionally, the U.S. strikes were conducted without informing the Iraqi government, let alone seeking the government's authorization.

"Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandis played a major role in controlling the PMU forces and put them under the control of the state," Mahdi told parliament on Sunday. The prime minister also noted that he had been in communication with Trump ahead of the strikes, but the pending attack was not discussed and came as a surprise.

"I was supposed to meet Soleimani in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi to Iran," the Iraqi leader said.

Newsweek has reached out to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees military operations in Iraq, for comment.

Iraq PM
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi addresses the Iraqi parliament during the vote on the new government on October 24, 3018 in Baghdad, Iraq STR/AFP/Getty

The killing of Iran's Soleimani, one of the Persian Gulf nation's top leaders, was a significant escalation in tensions between Tehran and Washington, and is expected to have major implications throughout the Middle East. Although Iraq is allied with the U.S., it has developed increasingly close ties with Iran, largely due to a combined interest in fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS), regional proximity, and the fact that both countries have Shia Muslim majority populations.

Some of the militia groups that fall under the umbrella of the PMU have strong ties to Iran, and the U.S. accused one of those groups – Kataib Hezbollah – of carrying out a rocket attack at the end of the December that left an American contractor dead. Although the militia denied any involvement, the U.S. carried out a strike killing at least 25 fighters.

Iraqis, angered by the U.S. actions against the military group, then stormed the U.S. embassy. The U.S. said those protests were orchestrated by Iran and its proxies in the country, using the embassy demonstration as the impetus for carrying out the strike killing Soleimani and al-Muhandis.

Iran has vowed to retaliate and attack U.S. military targets in the region. Meanwhile, Trump has warned that the U.S. has a list of 52 sites in Iran that it plans to attack if there is any retaliation.

Newsweek has reached out to the White House for comment.

This article has been updated with the results of the Iraqi parliament vote, as well as with a comment from Holly Dagres.