Just days after the Trump-ordered assassination of the powerful Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, the aftermath has already led to an escalating political disaster for the U.S. in Iraq. On Sunday, Iraqi lawmakers voted to expel U.S. troops, powerful Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called for closing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S.-led coalition working to prevent a resurgence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria paused operations amid expectations of more attacks on U.S. forces by Iran and its allies.
Embattled Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi urged lawmakers on Sunday to vote to expel U.S. troops from the country, and a majority of them subsequently did during an emergency session of Iraq’s parliament. The end result reflected sectarian division, however, since Sunni Muslim and Kurdish lawmakers, who reportedly want the U.S. to stay, skipped the session entirely. The final vote total was 170-0 in favor of expelling U.S. troops and filing a complaint with the United Nations over the breach of Iraq’s sovereignty. 158 members of parliament did not attend or vote.
The Trump administration reportedly tried to prevent the vote, as well. According to Axios, “administration officials have warned senior Iraqi officials that Iraq would suffer dangerous consequences if the U.S. withdrew its military and its funding of the Iraqi security apparatus.” A State Department spokesperson called the vote “disappointing” and said the U.S. was urging Iraqi lawmakers to reconsider while awaiting “further clarification on the legal nature and impact of today’s resolution.”
The other clarification the State Department is probably going to need is from President Trump, whose opposition to funding Iraqi security is well established, so he may see Iraq ditching the U.S. as a net gain with or without the consequences American diplomats fear.
In the meantime, it does not appear that Sunday’s vote is legally binding, as Abdel Mahdi’s government has severely limited power following mass resignations — including his — after widespread protests against corruption in the country.
Iran-backed Shiite militias have led the charge to expel the U.S. from the country following the U.S. drone strike which killed Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a powerful Shiite militia leader in Iraq, as their convoy drove away from the Baghdad airport in Thursday. Ahead of Sunday’s session of parliament, some of the assembled lawmakers erupted into anti-America chants.
In his comments on Sunday, Prime Minister Abdel Mahdi decried the U.S. strike as illegal and defended Soleimani, claiming that the Iranian general was his guest and that they had planned to meet on the morning he was killed to go over a Saudi proposal to defuse tensions. He also said that before the drone strike, Trump had called him to request he help mediate the conflict with Iran.
Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who is arguably the most powerful person in Iraq — and who once led a Shia insurgency after the U.S. invasion — later criticized the country’s lawmakers for what he called a “weak response insufficient against American violation of Iraqi sovereignty and regional escalation.” Per Reuters, al-Sadr called for ending of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, closing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, banning communication with the U.S., and a “humiliating” expulsion of U.S. troops from the country. He also called for the formation of regional axis of resistance against the U.S., days after he said he was reactivating two of his militia forces in Iraq in response to the U.S. strike.
Lastly, just minutes after the Iraqi parliament voted, the head of the U.S.-led coalition to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria announced that anti-ISIS operations have ceased, “subject to continuous review,” as a result of the recent rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias on bases hosting coalition troops. The statement did not mention the retaliation Iran has vowed on U.S. forces, but explained that coalition troops now had to focus on protecting the Iraqi bases instead of fighting ISIS. It is the second major setback for the coalition in recent months, following President Trump’s sudden decision in October to withdraw U.S. forces from northwestern Syria and hastily abandon America’s longtime Kurdish allies on the eve of a Turkish-led invasion. The resulting mess upended the effort to continue subduing ISIS in its former heartland.
This post has been updated to include the Trump administration’s efforts to block Sunday’s vote and subsequent response to the outcome.