U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq under scrutiny 

July 26, 2021 - 16:39

During a meeting on Monday at the White House, Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Khadhimi and U.S. President, Joe Biden, are set to specify a timetable for the withdrawal of all American combat troops from Iraq.

It is has been widely reported that this will take place at the end of the year.

The demand for the removal of American forces came in the form of an Iraqi parliamentary bill in January 2020 following the U.S. assassination of Iran’s Lieutenant General, Qassem Soleimani, and the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Units, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis along with eight others at Baghdad International Airport.

While the bill was non-binding, the approval of then Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul-Mehdi, made it binding meaning the U.S. presence in the country would now be considered an occupation. The demand to end the occupation was backed by a million-man march. 

In May 2020, Parliament selected al-Khadhimi to replace Abdul-Mehdi on the condition of carrying out the mandate of expelling American forces. Since then, three rounds of dialogue have been held between Washington and Baghdad. All three have fallen short of providing a timetable for a complete withdrawal of American troops from the Arab country, instead, statements had been issued saying American forces will transition their presence from a combat role to a training role or an advisory role.

Nevertheless, Iraqi foreign minister, Fuad Hussein, who has been in Washington for the past couple of days, has been spoken to media outlets back home making assurances that this time the talks will successfully establish a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces, but that some American military presence will be required for training and intelligence purposes. (That has already angered some parties in Iraq’s parliament). However, American media are suggesting otherwise and it appears that Iraq is saying one thing and the Americans are saying something else. According to the New York Times, citing a senior U.S. official familiar with the ongoing discussions, the Pentagon will only remove a small, unspecified number of American troops and keep the rest, again by reclassifying their role.

The paper has described the talks as “diplomatic theater” to please the Iraqi side and more importantly the Iraqi parliament. According to the Pentagon, there are currently 2,500 American troops stationed in Iraq. However, that number has been disputed. The heavily fortified American embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone has a contingent of troops guarding it. There is no way of knowing exactly how many. Likewise, the heavily fortified Ain al-Assad military base in the Western Anbar province occupied by U.S. forces only has not been inspected by Iraqi security personnel. It is unclear how many troops occupy to base. There have also been reports of troops transferring between Iraq and Syria so it is impossible to confirm the figure of 2,500 U.S. combat troops. Bear in mind, there has been little to zero evidence of U.S. ‘combat’ troops actually engaging in combat on the ground against terrorists.

This raises the bigger question of what is exactly the nature of the American occupation of Iraq? If American troops are helping in the fight against Daesh, then Iraq’s Foreign Minister has already said from Washington, that his country has enough forces to counter the terrorist Takfiri group. And remember, the group was defeated in late 2017 by Iraqi forces, spearheaded by the Popular Mobilization Units, the same branch of the Iraqi armed forces that America attacks every now and again. What remains of Daesh is sleeper cells that stage attacks sporadically and Baghdad certainly does need foreign assistance for that. The country has been the scene of such terror attacks since America invaded in 2003 and when it withdrew in 2011 and since it returned in 2014. In other words, it doesn’t make a difference whether American forces are present or not. Iraqi intelligence services, through experience, have managed to decrease these terrorist attacks. The parties in Iraq’s parliament who hold the most seats, as elected by the Iraqi people, say the U.S. is playing a sinister role in their country serving Israeli interests. Among the many troublesome aspects of the occupation, the U.S. stands accused of causing sedition among the Iraqis that is turning the locals against each other, using the country’s airspace to spy on the Iraqi resistance which has grown in power. 

Iraqi parties also accuse the U.S. of using agents on the ground in coordination with the American embassy and its diplomatic missions to lead a disinformation campaign (mainly on social media) against Iraq’s neighbor Iran. For example, when Iraqis took to the streets in October 2019 to protest against legitimate rights, the demonstrations soon turned deadly with armed infiltrators shooting at civilians, that’s according to Iraqi Security Officials, footage that appeared online indicated the same. At the same time, analysts say many social media accounts popped up out of nowhere claiming Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps had been shooting at protesters. This is despite Iraq’s highest security official declaring on state media that no Iranian forces are even present in Iraq. Observers note that America’s biggest concern is about ties between Baghdad and Washington’s arch-enemy Tehran, growing stronger.

 They say the presence of the U.S. in the country can disrupt the expansion of cooperation between the two neighbors and swing Iraq’s hand of friendship elsewhere towards Washington’s allies in West Asia, such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. America’s allies in the region of course just happen to be non-democratic ruling tribal monarchies, one of whom has normalized ties with Israel (the United Arab Emirates) and the other, Saudi Arabia, is widely believed to have secret ties with the regime. Analysts say America can’t achieve that goal from Washington, it needs to have a presence inside Iraq to execute this mission and that’s why, every year, its forces are transitioning from a combat role to an advisory role and from an advisory role to a training role and from a training role to an intelligence supporting role; as long as a presence is there, the Pentagon couldn’t care less how that presence is labeled. Meanwhile, the Iraqi resistance says they will settle for nothing less than a full withdrawal in sync with a clear timetable. If that doesn’t happen, the resistance factions say they will increase their attacks against the U.S. occupation, with not just more operations against American interests but also more sophisticated operations to end the occupation. They say this is needed to preserve the territorial integrity of the country. As one Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, once said, onetime Iraq wanted something from the United States was very early 2014 when Daesh terrorists were gathering in large numbers inside Iraq near the Syrian border; Baghdad requested from Washington to deliver missiles and other weapons that Iraq had already paid for, so the Iraqi Air Force could wipe out the terrorists before they extend their presence across the country.

Those missiles came 14 months later along with the American ‘combat, advisory, training, intelligence’ (whatever you want to call them) forces when Daesh took over two-thirds of the country. The reality is a lot of blood could have been saved if America delivered on time. Experts say Washington had the same intelligence about Daesh’s presence on the Iraqi-Syrian border and it had the same awareness, as the then Iraqi government had, that Daesh could have been wiped out there and then. If American intelligence could not figure that out and send what Baghdad had paid for and requested, then America is the last country Iraq can rely on. Allies are there at times of need, and in Iraq’s darkest moments in June 2014, when sure enough, Daesh took control of large swathes of territory, Iraqi officials say it was the Islamic Republic of Iran that arrived at the scene within hours, It was Iran’s Lieutenant General, Qassem Soleimani, and his team of military advisors who arrived at the scene within a few hours (not many months later), it was Iran that opened its weapons depots for Iraqi forces and provided the intelligence, support, and training for all factions of Iraq’s armed forces, including the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni tribal forces. But, that’s one for the history books.

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