Originally published by Journal-NEO.org/.
Iraq’s leadership is faced with a huge challenge – the choice of proper solutions and decisions in relation to the presence of foreign, especially US, troops in the country, and it has, for too long, failed to make any progress on this issue. The real question is how this complex issue can be dealt with effectively while neighboring Iran continues to use its representatives to exert influence on Iraq and is doing everything it can to dislodge the US from the country.
One important factor is clearly the position of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, the Iraqi prime minister, who is clearly being pulled in two different directions by the rival powers of Iran and the USA – and it is this uncertainty and the growing tension between the two rivals which is dragging Iraq to the edge of the abyss.
The situation escalated after the US conducted air strikes against the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF) along Iraq’s border with Syria on June 27, killing at least 7 of the militia forces and provoking calls for revenge from senior pro-Iranian figures in Iraq. Mustafa Al-Kadhimi naturally reacted angrily to the US attack, which followed a number of raids by Iranian-backed Shia militants against US forces and bases. The Iraqi National Security Council, headed by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi “decisively” condemned the US bombing raid as a “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”
According to a statement from Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s office, the government is looking at legal mechanisms to prevent such attacks from being repeated in the future. The Iraqi Foreign Minister also described the US air strikes as an “act of aggression and a violation of national sovereignty” and stressed that Iraq refused to “be a party to any conflict involving another country’s attempts to settle scores in Iraqi territory.” It should be noted that it is rare for Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to criticize the US in this manner – he had previously promised to develop a strategic partnership with Washington and clamp down on the rebellious Iran-backed militants who are threatening US interests in Iraq.
Joe Biden’s administration has defended air strikes against groups based in Iraq, demagogically arguing that this will deter the militants, and Iran itself, from launching or supporting further attacks against US forces and bases. But the attacks have recently been getting more frequent – and more serious. The US occupying forces are getting more nervous and edgy day by day, as the number of American deaths in the country increases. In the last few weeks, the militants have used drones in a number of attacks on US targets, including one on a CIA hangar in the northern city of Erbil. Joe Biden’s administration has called on Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to put an end to the rocket and drone attacks conducted by militants against US interests in Iraq, and the US military has warned that its troops will act in “self-defense” if they are attacked.
But Washington needs to be reminded that no-one invited US troops into Iraq – they invaded and occupied the whole country, destroying its state apparatus, trashing its infrastructure, leaving the economy in ruin and looting priceless historical artifacts. Back in 2003 photographs of the looted Iraq Museum in Baghdad – founded by the British archaeologist Gertrude Bell in 1923 – were published by media all over the world. According to some reports, the looters, most of whom were Americans, stole items from the museum over the course of several weeks. Some 15,000 items disappeared from the museum’s collection, many of them priceless antiquities dating back 4,000 years. These irreplaceable artifacts then appeared in auctions in the USA, Europe and Australia, but for some reason none of the looters or vandals were ever prosecuted.
Acting in the interests of the Iraqi people the national parliament unequivocally declared that all foreign troops must be withdrawn from the country after Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force, and the Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were assassinated in a US strike in January 2020. Since then Washington has had to negotiate, and promise to withdraw all its combat troops and relocate other staff – now transferred to “training and consultancy” roles – to camps in the desert near the Syrian border and in Iraqi Kurdistan. These steps reflect Joe Biden’s repeated declarations that he is looking for a way to put an end to what many in the US see as “endless wars”. The US move has prompted Iran-backed Shia militant groups in Iraq to launch rocket attacks on an almost daily basis in order to speed up their departure. But Joe Biden’s decision to launch retaliatory air strikes against the pro-Iranian militants based in Iraq represents a significant shift in US policy.
As the Washington Post reports, government officials have declared that the US will respond to any attack with force, even if no US staff are killed or wounded. Amer al-Fayez, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Foreign Relations Commission, writing in the newspaper Al-Bawaba, has stated: “In Iraq, Washington is acting in accordance with its own interests, and to further those interests it is trying to keep the current government in power for a longer term.” Ayyub al-Rubaiy, member of the Iraqi parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, shares his opinion: “The US troops do not want to leave Iraq.”
John T. Godfrey, Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Acting Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (ISIS, or DAESH is a terrorist organization prohibited in the Russian Federation), has even emphasized the US’s “enduring commitment to the defeat of ISIS.” In furtherance of this, Washington has transferred troops and supplies from its Al Sayliyah base in Qatar to Jordan, which, according to the Pentagon, will allow it to deal with the threat posed by Iraqi militias and will also reflect the changing priorities for troops based in the region. According to a statement issued by the US Central Command, supplies from the US bases, and the support mission based there, are now part of Area Support Group-Jordan. The two countries have also reached an agreement on defense issues, under which US troops, aircraft and vehicles may enter Jordan freely, which represents a derogation of the Kingdom’s national sovereignty.
The Iran-backed militant groups are using the confrontation to push Mustafa Al-Kadhimi into expediting the final departure of US troops from Iraq. After the US air strikes the head of the Fatah Alliance, which brings together all the Iran-backed militant groups, called on the Iraqi government to “expel the American occupiers” from the country immediately. Nevertheless, according to experts security in the country is as fragile as ever, a limited foreign military presence, under the direct control of the Iraqi government, is necessary in order to keep up pressure on the remnants of DAESH (that is banned in Russia), which is currently regrouping and mounting a resurgence. These militants have recently increased their level of activity, after reorganizing into mobile groups to carry out smaller scale attacks and evade arrest more easily. In January this year, according to police, more than 30 people were killed by an explosion in a crowded Baghdad market. A militant group recently claimed responsibility for conducting rocket strikes on Iraq’s national energy system, in which both Katyusha rockets and explosives were used, causing serious damage to parts of the electricity grid and resulting in a nationwide power cut. The national electricity system, which was totally destroyed by US troops and has not yet been fully repaired, is extremely important for the Iraqi population, especially now that average temperatures approach 50 degrees C.
Iraq has suffered terribly from the Covid-19 pandemic, a worsening economic crisis triggered by a sharp fall in oil prices, rampant corruption and government inefficiency, and fears are growing that the country may be unable to cope with any further destabilizing events. The threat of a conflict is ever present, and is looking increasingly likely in the run-up to Iraq’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 10, and as pro-Iranian groups prepare to compete with other parties for a majority of seats and thus a monopoly over political power. In the midst of all this chaos, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has not been able to draw up road maps for dealing with the resurging DAESH (banned in the Russian Federation) once he no longer has the support of the international coalition, or for combating the militants, who are likely to step up their campaign as soon as the US troops are withdrawn. The prime minister, hoping to shore up his power, therefore recently visited Brussels to humble himself before NATO and ask it to commit more resources to its mission to train and advise the Iraqi military. But it is hard to imagine that Western military alliance ever acting independently of the United States.
In Iraq there is a saying, which has become something of a proverb: “Oil is our wealth; oil is our burden.”
If the country was not floating on an underground sea of oil, it would probably have been ignored by the West, as happened in the case of Somalia. But its “black gold” and other natural resources, and its strategically important location, have enticed the Western raiders to grab Iraq with their greedy hands, keeping it in their “friendly” embrace like a python and keeping a tight rein on this rich but unhappy country.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
Author: New Eastern Outlook
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