The US Withdrawal from Iraq: Between the Economic Burdens and Security Guarantees

*Dr. Taghreed Safaa Mahdi                                                                         

On the 5th of January 2020, the Iraqi Parliament voted for the foreign troops output, including the American’s, from the country. This is after two days of the American air strike that resulted in the killing of the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and the Deputy Head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport. The decision came from the idea of ​​supporting Iraq’s sovereignty, and that this Iraqi decision to expel US forces and other foreign forces led to Iraq’s right to possess its sovereignty. The decision within the 4th round of the strategic dialogue between Baghdad and Washington was politically welcomed by many. The Iraqi President Barham Salih stated in a tweet on Twitter (The results of the Iraqi-American strategic dialogue are important to achieving stability and strengthening the Iraqi sovereignty, and it is the result of the diligent work of the government headed by Mustafa Al-Kazemi, with the support of national forces and on the basis of state’s reference ). However, many fears that this will open the door widely for armed factions and terrorist groups to make a state of mess and political and security instability, and the American fall back might be a chance for others to gain political and economic influence in Iraq.

Who will present themselves a replacement for the US forces after its withdrawal from Iraq?

Will the US withdrawal from Iraq lead to a security vacuum?

The Pretext for the American Presence in Iraq

The US forces are existing in Iraq since 2003. They were around 150 thousand soldiers when they arrived on March that year (allegedly to destroy the weapons of mass destruction) and toppling Iraqi former president (Saddam Hussein). After Barak Obama elected in 2009 president for the US, he promised to reduce the number of Americans in Iraq, until they numbered 5,000 soldiers. Until ISIS appeared in Iraq and Syria, the need rose again for the US military support for Iraq, especially the need for air fighters, air coverage and UAVs (drones) to confront ISIS. After the defeat of ISIS, the need for the US military presence has not gone away. However, the matter required a reduction in the number of these forces, so the former US president Donald Trump decided to reduce this number to reach 2500 American soldiers. The announcement by US President (Joe Biden) during the visit of Iraqi Prime Minister (Mustafa Al-Kazemi) on July 26, 2021 to the White House (that the United States will end its combat mission by the end of 2021 in Iraq to begin a new phase of military cooperation with Iraq, and that the American role in Iraq will turn to providing advice and training, and the US military in Iraq are existing as advisors and trainers) and two sides agreed to return to the implementation of the law of the security agreement between Iraq and the United States and the law of the strategic framework agreement for the work of the US forces in Iraq in 2008 (which one of its clauses states that the tasks of the US forces are confined to training Iraqi forces, not to participate in combat missions).

Does announcing the withdrawal of the US combat forces from Iraq mean the end of war on terror?

The United States strategic downturn in the Middle East

The world began watching closely to see if ISIS or other terrorist jihadist groups would start using Iraq as a platform to launch cross-border terrorist attacks, especially against the West again, after the US military withdrawal from Iraq. The scenario of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan might come to mind and whether Baghdad will become Kabul! As the Afghanistan war in 2001 and the Iraq war in 2003 are considered the biggest war adventures of the United States after the end of the Cold War at the end of the nineties of the twentieth century. On December 23, 2003, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington issued a report prepared by the American strategist Anthony Cordesman, in which he referred to a number of major mistakes made by the American administration in Iraq, most notably: the disband of the Iraqi army and the failure to find a balance between political forces, the encouragement of the principle of sectarian quotas, the failure to control security and achieve stability, the failure to find new balances in the relations with Iraq’s neighbors to ensure non-interference in its affairs or threatening its security and stability, and finally the inability of reconstruction and the failure to activate the necessary services for citizens such as water, electricity, education and health.

Niu Xinchun (Director of the Middle East Institute of the China Institute of Modern International Relations) pointed out that Iraq will not become the next Afghanistan, and that the importance of Iraq is greater than Afghanistan and the United States cannot leave it, and that the American military withdrawal from Iraq represents a symbolic step and reflects the American orientation towards the strategic downturn in the Middle East, and that the United States has four main points in its strategy after the withdrawal:

1- Not allowing hostile countries to control important countries and great cases.

2- Confronting direct attacks on America’s and Americans’ interests.

3- Not allowing terrorist organizations to hold camps or establish a country that is hostile for the West.

4- Forbidding Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.

Providing strategic balance against the Iranian influence

Since the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been trying hard to evacuate American forces from nearby neighboring countries, but it has not succeeded much. Specifically, in the Arab Gulf due to the presence of American military bases, and as long as American interests are subjected to recurring attacks in Iraq, which the United States accuses the armed factions supported by Iran in Iraq for. The issue of the US withdrawal from Iraq might not be just a media maneuver or an attempt to buy some time as much as it is a strategic goal to reduce the US presence in the region to relieve Washington of its increasing economic and military burdens in favor of partnerships and security guarantees.

The civil war is Syria gave the opportunity for a strong Iranian military presence there. Hezbollah in Lebanon has become an ally of Iran against Israel. In this equation, Iraq becomes a geostrategic extension of Iran which hopes to end the US presence in its arena to achieve its declared and undeclared strategic goals.  From an American perspective, the United States does not see Iraq as an Iranian arena to hit American interests, on the other hand, if this withdrawal happens, it will push Washington’s regional allies to look for other allies, in addition to continue playing their effective role reducing the Iranian influence in the region. The withdrawal of the combat forces might indicate to Tehran that the US presence in Iraq does not represent a threat to it, thus facilitating to reach an agreement in the negotiations on reviving the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, according to American conditions.

In conclusion, it can be said that there might be a difficulty for Washington to withdraw from Iraq, especially since this withdrawal will threaten the American position and interests in the Middle East, and open the door for other international powers, Russia and China in particular, to play a greater security role. Also, Iraq’s capability to confront regional challenges and the danger of terror cannot continue with the little potentials that the Iraqi political willingness has, and the military and political structural divisions in the political system and the inability to consensus to form a government that takes upon itself solving administrative and military problems, providing services to people, searching for ways to get Iraq out of its crises and smoothing its relations with its neighbouring countries.

**Dr. Taghreed Safaa Mahdi/ An Iraqi Researcher