President Joe Biden declared on Monday that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq would cease by the end of this year. But he also made clear that U.S. forces — probably most of the 2,500 now in the country — would be rebranded to “train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS.”
Unlike his abrupt end to the “forever war” in Afghanistan, Biden wants to deepen a strategic partnership with Iraq.
Moreover, the White House wants to help Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, an unusual Iraqi leader and former human rights crusader. He is trying to pull together a country fragmented by sectarianism, corruption and Iranian meddling.
Aiding Iraq makes strategic sense, given Baghdad’s geography at the center of the Middle East. Al-Kadhimi’s government has enhanced frayed Iraqi relationships with its Arab and Turkish neighbors.
A stabilized Iraq could provide an anchor in an increasingly chaotic region. But that goal often seems as distant as a desert mirage.