Earlier this month, the international anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq led by the United States suspended its operations against the terrorist group as a result of protests that had sparked after Soleimani’s death.
The Iraqi parliament subsequently passed a bill that seeks to expel all remaining US troops. However, while a final decision is still pending, thousands of international soldiers remain in Iraq, from 60 nations in total, ready to advance operation Inherent Resolve. Meanwhile, the second operation currently conducted in Iraq, a NATO training mission, will depend on whether or not the US leaves the country. For now, however, the main actors remain dedicated and present in Iraq.
The entire anti-IS operation is led by the United States, which currently still has between 5,000 and 6,000 soldiers stationed in Iraq and is spread across several bases such as Union III Base, Camp Victory, Balad, and Ain al-Assad. Alongside the Iraqis and Americans, the bases are also used by other western armed forces. The airport near the Kurdish city of Erbil in northeastern Iraq is the base camp for the United States and other nations.
Germany, for example, maintains “Camp Stephan” here. Berlin had deployed 152 soldiers who were involved in training the Iraqi and Kurdish military. After the suspension, the 32 Bundeswehr soldiers stationed in central Iraqi Taji were all relocated to Jordan. Meanwhile, 117 Bundeswehr soldiers remain in the northern Iraqi military base near the Kurdish city of Erbil.
Britain has approximately 400 soldiers and 1,000 civilians as instructors in Iraq, most of whom are based in Taji, some in Erbil. During January, London moved around 50 British from Baghdad to Taji. However, Britain has not yet planned to withdraw its troops from Iraq.
Meanwhile, Paris will also keep its 200 troops in Iraq, of whom 160 are military instructors. Italy has stationed between 600 and 1,000 soldiers in Iraq who are to remain. However, around 50 Carabinieri, who trained Iraqi security forces as part of the NATO mission in Union III Base, were transferred in light of the mission’s temporary suspension.
Poland also has around 150 soldiers working in the anti-IS coalition in Iraq, and a further 60 are on the NATO training mission. So far, Warsaw has stated it would only withdraw its troops if the government in Baghdad requests it. Meanwhile, Canada has 500 soldiers in Iraq, partly as part of the anti-IS coalition and partly for the NATO training mission. In the Soleimani aftermath, parts of the troops have been temporarily transferred to Kuwait.
Denmark has deployed around 130 soldiers to the Al-Assad military base as part of the anti-IS coalition. Another ten were instructors for NATO in Baghdad. Spain, on the other hand, has stationed around 500 soldiers in Iraq, 70 of whom are part of the NATO training mission. Large troops are stationed in Besmaya in the region around Baghdad. Some of the Spaniards have since been relocated to Kuwait in the meantime.
As so often, Australia also plays its part in the mission and has approximately 300 soldiers in Iraq with no intention of opting out at this point. The Australian military is primarily tasked with training Iraqi military personnel. The Netherlands is also on a training mission that includes the training of Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers in Baghdad, but especially in Erbil. The approximately 60 Dutch soldiers are said to remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
Hungary has 160 to 200 soldiers stationed in Erbil, most of them also as trainers. The government has not yet planned to withdraw the soldiers. Norway employs around 60 soldiers as instructors out of the al-Assad base, while 10 soldiers are part of the NATO training mission.
Finland deployed 78 military trainers who have been affected by the operation’s suspension but are said to remain in the country. New Zealand’s approximately 100 soldiers and are also said to remain in the country. Meanwhile, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Lithuania, and Romania, each with only a few soldiers stationed in Iraq, have temporarily withdrawn them from the country.
While the international commitment in the operations is noble, these figures nonetheless indicate how crucial the US’ presence and leadership in these missions are. If the US troops were to leave Iraq, whether voluntarily or based on Iraq’s decision, the mission would de facto fail.
While NATO is currently reviewing its training mission, the faith of the anti-IS coalition will depend on Iraq’s future path, either towards Iran – and subsequently the Islamic State – or the international community.