U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Syria would send ‘frightening’ message to Middle East, say diplomats

April 3, 2018 GMT

A suggested U.S. troop withdrawal from post-Islamic State Iraq and Syria would have a catastrophic impact on security and stabilization efforts in the region, and potentially open the door for the terror group’s reemergence in the Middle East, senior Iraqi diplomats said Tuesday.

The reported withdrawal being weighed by the Trump administration “would send a frightening message” to leaders in Iraq in particular, who are on the cusp of key parliamentary elections slated for later this year, said Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Kurdistan Regional Government representative to the U.S.

Ongoing chatter in Washington over a possible pullout of the roughly 2,000 U.S. service members operating in Syria has officials in Baghdad, Irbil and elsewhere are “hearing alarming things without an explanation” from the White House, Ms. Rahman said during a panel discussion sponsored by the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Officials from the National Security Council are expected to delve into the issue of a Syrian withdrawal next week, Reuters reported. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis will reportedly discuss a possible Syria withdrawal with White House officials Tuesday.

President Trump last week ordered the suspension of U.S. fiscal aid toward Syrian reconstruction, setting off a flurry of speculation on what Washington’s next steps in the country will be. He further stoked speculation by telling reporters over the weekend that American troops “would be leaving very soon.”

Mr. Trump’s comments came the same day Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar and a British service member were killed by a roadside bomb near Manbij, Syria. Master Sgt. Dunbar was reportedly a member of Delta Force, the highly secretive U.S. special operations counterterrorism unit. The attack occurred while Master Sgt. Dunbar and his team were conducting a so-called “kill/capture” mission against a high-level ISIS leader in Syria, CNN reported.

The effort to suspend aid puts the White House at odds with American commanders, who believe U.S. strategy in Syria would require forces on the ground for a minimum of two years, to combat the remnants of the Islamic State, Reuters reported. Reaction from Capitol Hill has equally been critical.

“It’d be the single worst decision the president could make,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Fox News Sunday. “We got ISIL on the ropes. You want to let ’em off the ropes, remove American soldiers.”

Fareed Yasseen, Iraqi ambassador to the United States, echoed that sentiment on Tuesday.

“It is in the interest of everybody to prevent ISIS from reemerging” in Iraq and the region writ large, Mr.Yasseen said during the panel discussion with Ms. Rahman.

“We still suffer from Syria,” he said, noting that the country’s porous border with Iraq has long been a thoroughfare for extremists groups, most recently ISIS.

“People do not realize the cost this war has had” on the Iraqi people, Mr. Yasseen added.