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As tensions rise in Mideast, US begins talks on troop levels in Iraq

Scripps News takes a look at what the future could hold for the thousands of U.S. service members currently in the Middle East.
As tensions rise in Mideast, US begins talks on troop levels in Iraq
Posted at 4:28 PM, Jan 30, 2024

For 20 years now, U.S. military forces have had a presence in Iraq — first during the 2003 invasion, and later to fight ISIS.

American troops in Iraq have faced numerous attacks by Iran-backed militias in recent months, and there are now negotiations beginning between the U.S. and Iraq that could potentially change the American military footprint in that country.

"But more importantly, is to discuss how to transition the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq," said Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Slim said the recent deadly attack in Jordan which killed three U.S. soldiers just made those talks, which had been planned for since last summer, harder.

"Definitely, it adds a complicating factor to the ongoing discussion between the American and the Iraqi security forces," Slim said.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there are over 30,000 land-based U.S. troops stationed throughout the Middle East. Kuwait hosts the most with over 13,000, followed by Qatar with 10,000 and Bahrain with over 9,000.

SEE MORE: Pentagon identifies 3 US troops killed in drone attack in Jordan

There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq. Research compiled by Scripps News shows that Iran-backed militias have launched at least 66 strikes on U.S. troops there since the start of the war in Israel and Gaza on Oct. 7.

That war added its own set of complications to the U.S.-Iraq talks over troop levels.

"The attacks on Oct. 7 did delay some of those conversations from happening and the discussions from starting with agency, but we're still committed to that process," said Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh. "We're still committed to working with the Iraqi government and we are going to continue to do so."

The situation, however, was already dangerous prior to current conflicts. More than 100 U.S. troops were injured during an attack on a base in Iraq back in 2020. Still, Randa Slim said the Israel-Gaza conflict is now casting a long shadow over the region.

"As long as the war in Gaza continues, in my opinion," she said, "these forces or these groups and elements are going to be continuing to attack U.S. forces."

All of this is placing higher stakes on the talks between the U.S. and Iraq.

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