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Withdrawal of Us Troops From Iraq Can Endanger Minority Communities
By Gary Stauffer
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WASHINGTON (UPI) -- A vote by the Iraqi parliament to expel American troops into the country is concerned about whether their absence will make minority communities vulnerable to attacks by the Islamic State.

"These communities can afford the least instability and violence because they stick to a thread as it is and need an urgent focus on reconstruction, return and resettlement in their cities," Peter Burns, director of government relations and policies for the Ter advocacy group Ter defense of Christians, Medill News Service told. "A new round of violence in Iraq may be the last straw."

Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria By ISIS and Other Muslim Groups

Parliament's vote of January 5 came two days after the United States murder of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the popular mobilization units of Iraq.

The resolution adopted the 170-0 Iraqi Assembly, with 158 members, mainly Sunni lawmakers, including the Kurds, boycotting the vote. The decision is not binding, but puts pressure on Iraq's temporary prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, to dispel foreign influence.

Mahdi, who resigned in November amid protests that began in October about political corruption, continues to play his role until a new prime minister is elected. Mahdi supported parliament's decision, but privately said he did not want US troops to withdraw, according to an Al Monitor report.

The 5,500 US troops in the country do not offer direct security to the Assyrian Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq, but do provide training and support to Iraqi armed forces and fight with the coalition partners against the Islamic state.

Assyrians and Yazidis are ethnic communities that are native to parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran and make up nearly 2 percent of the total population of Iraq.

A strong coalition presence in Iraq makes Yazidis feel more secure, especially with the continued risk of radical groups that have not been fully terminated, said Murad Ismail, executive director of Yazidi relief organization YAZDA.

"Withdrawal will usually create a vacuum that is filled by internal armed groups or regional powers to intervene," Ismail said. "Sinjar in particular is in danger."

The Sinjar district in northern Iraq was attacked by IS in August 2014 and led to the murder and kidnapping of thousands of Yazidis.

In December 2011, US troops withdrew from the country in accordance with the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government failed to properly fill the gap in their absence, said Omar Mohammed, an Iraqi journalist who was previously based in Mosul, and added that the people of the city lost their faith in the government.

"We were abandoned by the government," he said during a panel discussion earlier this month at George Washington University. "We were excluded."

Forces to protect the city began to feel that the fight was not for them to fight, Mohammed said, which led to IS conquering the city in the summer of 2014. US-led coalition forces, including Iraqi troops, liberated the city in 2017.

IS still has pockets of insurgents in the country because many retreating IS hunters are now fighting for Iranian-backed militias, Mohammed said. These groups include not only Shiite militias, but also militias formed by Sunni tribes. They now have significant financial and political control over cities such as Mosul.

"This is what we fear, not that ISIS still has pockets, but for those who still control the public scene," he said.

The town of Bartella, 20 miles east of Mosul, has soldiers from the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, a Christian mobilization established in 2014 to protect Assyrian communities. But leaders in Bartella said they need more protection because these soldiers are significantly outnumbered by Iranian-backed militias.

The Trump government has stated that they have no intention of leaving the country. A statement from the US Department of Foreign Affairs said that any delegation sent to Iraq would consider participating in a strategic partnership again.

A NATO delegation spoke about increasing its role in the country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added to a press conference that the US military mission in Iraq is very clear and will continue: training Iraqi security forces and fighting the Islamic State.

Shamiran Mako, associate professor of international relations at Boston University's global studies school, said Assyrians are unsafe, regardless of whether Americans stay or leave.

"Americans have been in Iraq since 2003 and the number of Assyrians has fallen dramatically since the invasion," she said.

Bahra Dawood, who lives in the Assyrian suburb of Ankawa in Erbil, said that decisions on both sides are rarely made for the people.

"As long as our nation is not one hand, we will never survive," she said. "The power is in our own hands."

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