Withdrawal of US troops from Iraq: cacophony of opinions

Withdrawal of US troops from Iraq: cacophony of opinions

Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb. 16

By Azer Ahmadbayli – Trend:

The Iraqi Parliament is currently working over a draft law on the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country. It is clear that this refers primarily to the US military.

Is the withdrawal of American troops beneficial for Iraq? Who and why insists on this?

The question should be viewed considering two factors, which, however, are strongly interlinked. An internal factor is inter-Iraqi turf war, while the external one is the US-Iran face-off.

The Shiite political and military elite has been feeling comfortable since the Sunnis ' deprivation of dominance in the country after Saddam Hussein's departure, as well as after the expulsion of the Kurds from the disputed territories in October 2017, and the return of control over the oil fields of Kirkuk.

The re-consolidation of the Sunni community, as well as the return of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to the disputed territories will be a challenge for the Shiite majority – it will be necessary to share power and wealth.

Who can really help the knocked-out Sunnis to rise again from their knees and declare themselves? Who can help the return of the Peshmerga troops to the disputed territory?

Americans can. Why would they need to? The reason is their confrontation with Iran.

If it were not for the strongest Iranian influence on the Iraqi Shiites, the Americans, most likely, would have nothing against their dominance in Iraq.

The latest example of strong Iranian influence in Iraq is assassination of a well-known Iraqi novelist, Alaa Mashzoub, reportedly because of his harsh criticism of Iran. Also, as regional media reported, the commander of the Iranian elite Al-Quds forces, Qasim Suleimani, mediated between Iraqi Shiite leaders to select a candidate for the post of Iraqi interior minister, which was vacant after the country's new government had been formed.

Close ties between the Iraqi Shiite authorities and Iran make the US look for a counterweight.

This, in turn, makes the Shiite MPs and the leading Shiite parties with their military branches stand together for enactment of the law and the early withdrawal of the US troops from the country.

The response of Shiite leaders ranges from a mild diplomatic statement made by the Shiite spiritual leader of Iraq, Ali al-Sistani, to open threats voiced by one of the leaders of the Shiite people's militia Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Kais Hazali to force the US military out of the country.

However, there are also those who consider the withdrawal of the US troops premature and unreasonable.

The speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Mohammed al-Halbusi said that his country still needs foreign forces to fight terrorism. He believes that Iraq will not be able to counter terrorism without the assistance of the international community: "Iraq still needs foreign forces to fight terrorism, and the international community must remain committed to providing military assistance to Iraq."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim also said that the US military presence in Iraq is consistent with the strategic agreement reached at the time between Baghdad and Washington.

Speaking about the withdrawal of foreign troops, the parties obviously refer to the threat posed by the "Islamic State" (IS).

Iraq announced the defeat of IS at the end of 2017. Since then, however, terrorists have continued to attack security forces and civilians throughout the country.

The top US general in the Middle East, Joseph Votel, warned that in Iraq and Syria there are still "tens of thousands" of the IS militants. "They are fragmented and scattered, but there is a leadership, there are militants, there are assistants," he said.

The Saudi newspaper Okaz noted that Iraqi intelligence has information from the arrested IS leaders that the group plans to return to the northern Iraq, especially the areas around Mosul.

In the meantime, during a meeting with acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan in Baghdad this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi reportedly asked for assistance in protecting the plains of Nineveh in the northern Iraq, as there was a risk of the revival of IS there.

Leaders of the Iraqi Shiite militia have a different point of view. They believe that the fight against the "Islamic State" in Iraq has been successfully completed, and the threat is over. Therefore, they say, there is no need for further stay of American troops in the country.

Some Shiite leaders were more outspoken in their comments, saying that Baghdad would not allow any foreign state to use Iraq to attack Iran.

It can be seen that opinions around the withdrawal of troops are different: Pro-Iranian forces require the adoption of the law, while there are those who do not want things to rush.

At the end of January, the former chief of staff of the Iraqi United Forces, Babakr Zebari, warned about the possibility of the revival of IS or the emergence of other terrorist groups in Iraq, if the root causes of their occurrence are not tackled. Representation of all components, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, according to him, is one of the most important steps that must be taken to prevent a new boom of extremism in the country.

Perhaps this is the best solution to ensure the early withdrawal of US troops from Iraq?

So until then, the Americans have a strong argument to prevent the adoption of this law in the Iraqi Parliament: Okaz newspaper reported that Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi asked Washington to extend sanctions waivers for Baghdad’s trade with Iran – a thing which is crucial for Iraq.

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