IRAQ, January 20th, 2011. PICTURED: Soldiers with the 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, stand with the graduating Iraqi tank class at Camp Taji, Iraq, where training the ISF has gone on for a decade or more.
CAMP TAJI, Iraq. August 23rd, 2020. In a statement, officials from Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq, announced that coalition Camp Taji and all the $357 million in property it contains would be transfered over to the Iraqi Special Forces control, as part of a “long-range” involvement of the United States in Iraq.
2,000 troops withdrew from the base in the summer of 2020, with the remnant following after the final transfer of military equipment is completed, however it’s not clear whether or not they will stay in the country and rotate to another facility, or return to American shores.
The ownership exchange comes just after a meeting between President Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to discuss the ending of U.S. presence in the country altogether.
Details of the recent meeting between the leaders were scant, but reports indicate Trump wants as many troops as doctrine would allow gone from Iraq before the November election.
“From this day forward, the ISF will take full responsibility for the facilities and programs at Taji and continue to use the site to lead and conduct training as part of the mission to defeat Daesh remnants,” said the statement.
America’s second longest war
The base, located just outside of Baghdad, has experienced a number of hostile rocket strikes since the assassination of Iranian Maj. General Qassem Soleimani in January. Following the strike, which also killed a powerful Iraqi politician and militia leader Abu al-Muhandis, the Iraqi parliament voted unanimously to expel the entire American military apparatus and establishment from the country.
However as it was only a resolution and not a legislative tool, it was unclear at the time how they might do this. There are currently still about 5,000 American troops and 2,500 coalition forces from countries like Australia and others in Europe in Iraq.
Camp Taji was taken over by the United States after the opening weeks of George Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. In 2020 Taji was subject to rocket fire from a group called Kata’ib Hezbollah, which killed 2 American soldiers and 1 British trooper.
Far from being the barbaric Daesh, or ISIS, Kata’ib Hezbollah is one of the militia groups that played the largest role in defending Iraq from the former’s invasion out of the western deserts in 2014 under the command, insofar as the command structure was well-maintained, of Soleimani and al-Muhandis.
Taji has remained actively involved in U.S. military affairs for the duration of America’s second-longest war, with the recent rocket attack coming as an example of why Trump might consider it important to leave.
Kata’ib Hezbollah was, in 2014 and whether U.S. generals liked it or not, formally inducted into the Iraqi military; in recognition of their ability to stand and fight against the ISIS uprising when the formal elements of the Iraqi army melted away.
State Dep. and Pentagon officials described them as Iranian proxies at the time of the rocket attack, due to the close working relationship of Soleimani and Muhandis, but that’s not necessarily for them to decide, and another war with the Iraqi government would obliterate any legitimacy the United States has as an ally to the country, which she would claim she is.