The killing of General Qasem Soleimani, the top Iranian Revolutionary Guard General, sparked a strong reaction from Iraqis and the country's parliament voted to expel all foreign forces, including 5,200 US troops, from their soil. Since the killing of General Soleimani, NATO has stopped its training mission and the US-led anti-Daesh campaign has frozen as well.
President Donald Trump had called on NATO to do more in the Middle East, just days after the US drone strike in Iraq that killed.
NATO Defence Ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss a proposal to integrate some of the anti-Daesh coalition forces to NAT0's mission in Iraq. NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, prior to the NATO Defence Ministers summit on 12 and 13 February, said the transatlantic alliance could do more in the Middle East, adding 'for instance, what we can do in Iraq when it comes to training.'
Welcoming the prospect of a larger role for the alliance in Iraq, the US ambassador at NATO, Kay Baily Hutchison told reporters, "I think it will definitely be the answer to what President Trump has requested."
US officials and Taliban continued 'peace talks' in Doha to end America's longest war in its history.
As part of the potential deal, while the Taliban will reduce their attacks, the Americans will start the drawdown of their forces – it is reported that US forces in Afghanistan will number around 8,000 eventually.
US President Donald Trump has signalled on a number of occasions that troops cuts in Afghanistan were likely. According to US Defence Department officials, America will maintain at least half a dozen bases in the country.
NATO's Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, announced the alliance's full support for the US-led efforts "to end the conflict and achieve a peaceful solution."
Countering Iran in Iraq
The withdrawal of US forces and ending the country's longest war was part of the US President's election campaign. Since then he has indicated his intention to leave Afghanistan in a number of press conferences and interviews.
Whether the US reaches an agreement with the Taliban or not, reports suggest that the US will gradually reduce its military presence in Afghanistan. This has, arguably, become more urgent with the developing situation in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
The US wants to free up its forces so that it can deploy them to countries, like Iraq, where regional powers threaten its interests.
The US Defence Secretary, testifying at the House Armed Services Committee said, "I am interested in reducing our force presence," so that some portion of them can be relocated in other parts of the world to bolster US preparedness for potential conflicts.
Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in Iraq.
Iran has successfully exerted its influence on Iraq since the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussain. The country has invested its strategic capital on most of the current Iraqi political and military leadership who are one way or another linked to Iran – some of them lived and worked in Iran during Saddam's rule.
The Iranian state institutions work very closely with most of the Iraqi political parties and they have huge sway over them – partly due to historical, cultural, religious and cultural links, which were nourished after the Iranian revolution of the 1970s.
At Iraq's Al Asad Air Base, in February 2019, President Trump called for keeping the US troops in Iraq to watch Iran. To contain and prevent further Iranian influence over Iraq, the US has taken an aggressively offensive approach. It targeted the most influential Iranian general in Iraq. General Soleimani led the Hashd al-Shaabi in their fight against Daesh and were a thorn in US efforts to maintain a foothold in Iraq.
The small US military footprint and easing of its responsibility in Afghanistan will enable the Americans to focus more on Iraq and countering Iran.