Abu Arkan Ibrahim picked up a rifle and joined the Iraqi insurgency against US troops when they occupied his hometown of Fallujah in 2003. He was badly burned in the fighting. Now, he fears the departure of the Americans he once battled. Over the past 17 years, the municipal employee has watched his city fall to the United States, al Qaeda, Islamic State and, most recently, Iraqi forces fighting alongside Iran-backed paramilitaries. Ibrahim said the presence of US troops in recent years helped suppress remaining Islamic State militants and rein in the Iran-backed militias – mutual foes accused by Iraqi officials of attacking locals. The US troop drawdown is creating a security vacuum, Ibrahim said, making Fallujah more dangerous. “I’d rather have the Americans here than the alternatives,” the 37-year old said. Ibrahim’s assessment is shared by many security officials, former fighters and residents in north and west regions of the country that comprise up to a third of Iraqi territory, former insurgent strongholds once loyal to Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.They say Islamic State and the Iran-backed paramilitaries stand to gain most from Washington’s troop reduction. They point to an increase in attacks by Islamic State, and fear the Iran-backed militias will use this violence to justify entrenching themselves. Last month, the United States completed a reduction of its forces in Iraq to 2,500 troops. That’s about half the level of less than a year ago. Recent months have witnessed more than 25 deadly attacks that Iraqi officials attribute to Islamic State militants. Last month, the group staged its biggest attack in years with a suicide bombing in the capital Baghdad that killed more than 30 people. The US embassy in Baghdad declined to comment. The US-led military coalition of 80 nations battling Islamic State in Iraq said it carried out 10 strikes against militant targets in Iraq in December alone. A coalition official said there were no plans to reverse the drawdown and said Iraqi forces were capable of handling the ongoing Islamic State insurgency with current levels of coalition support. Washington’s contingent is the largest in the coalition force, which includes 900 troops from other countries. Still, the US presence in Iraq is tiny compared to the 170,000 troops it stationed in the country after its invasion. Parts of Iraq’s 300,000-strong military operate across the country’s western and northern areas. The paramilitaries number at least 100,000, with a significant portion in the north and west. Security officials and analysts estimate there are thousands of Islamic State fighters. One US official acknowledged the withdrawal over the past year has reduced American military capabilities in Iraq but stressed that US assistance has continued. “We’re still working hard to enable and support our Iraqi partners,” said the official, adding the Iraqis were already operating more independently. The official conceded Islamic State remains a determined enemy. “So it’s not a bloodless future,” the official said. The administration of President Joe Biden has given no indication it intends to significantly reverse the drawdown started under predecessor Donald Trump. The Pentagon said the Biden administration is conducting a review of numbers and position of troops, including in Iraq. An Iraqi government spokesman said the drawdown hasn’t affected its ability to contain Islamic State. “There is ongoing coordination” with the US forces that remain, he said. Most Iraqis oppose foreign influence. Some welcome the US withdrawal. But many, especially in Sunni regions, say they would choose a small American military presence over increased power for the pro-Iran militias.