FALLUJAH: Abu Arkan Ibrahim picked up a rifle and joined the Iraqi insurgency against US troops when they occupied his hometown of Fallujah in 2003. He was badly burned in the fighting. Now, he fears the departure of the Americans he once battled.
Over the past 17 years, the municipal employee has watched his city fall to the US, Al-Qaeda, Daesh and, most recently, Iraqi forces fighting alongside Iran-backed paramilitaries.
Ibrahim said the presence of US troops in recent years helped suppress remaining Daesh militants and rein in the Iran-backed militias — mutual foes accused by Iraqi officials of attacking locals.
The US troop drawdown is creating a security vacuum, Ibrahim said, making Fallujah more dangerous. “I’d rather have the Americans here than the alternatives,” the 37-year old said.
Ibrahim’s assessment is shared by many security officials, former fighters and residents in north and west regions of the country that comprise up to a third of Iraqi territory, former insurgent strongholds once loyal to Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
They say Daesh and the Iran-backed paramilitaries stand to gain most from Washington’s troop reduction. They point to an increase in attacks by Daesh, and fear the Iran-backed militias will use this violence to justify entrenching themselves.
Last month, the US completed a reduction of its forces in Iraq to 2,500 troops. That’s about half the level of less than a year ago.
Recent months have witnessed more than 25 deadly attacks that Iraqi officials attribute to Daesh militants. Last month, the group staged its biggest attack in years with a suicide bombing in the capital Baghdad that killed more than 30 people.
The administration of President Joe Biden has given no indication it intends to significantly reverse the drawdown started under predecessor Donald Trump.