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Exclusive - Demand for US Troop Withdrawal Raises Eyebrows in Iraq

Exclusive - Demand for US Troop Withdrawal Raises Eyebrows in Iraq

Sunday, 4 November, 2018 - 12:15
US troops in Mosul, Iraq. (Reuters)
Adnan Hussein
No sooner had the new Iraqi parliament convened in its first session in mid-September that some members sought to veer discussions towards the issue of foreign troops, mostly Americans, in Iraq. The parliament saw the lights after months of political wrangling and amid angry popular protests calling for reform and combating corruption.

At such time of tumult, the demand by some MPs to reconsider foreign troop presence has raised a few eyebrows. The presence of those troops is not a new issue, but it was proposed out of context of the parliament’s session. At least its timing was off. The government, which is responsible for tackling this issue, had not even been formed yet. Moreover, the suggestion was made at a time when ISIS was regrouping and resuming its terrorist activity in several Iraqi regions.

The new call for foreign troop withdrawal was made on behalf of Iran on the eve of US sanctions taking effect on the country, noted observers.

In March, parliament referred to the government of former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The government, however, took no heed of the request, because it realized that the time was not appropriate to take such a drastic step given the ongoing instability in the country. Iraqi troops were also unprepared to solely lead the fight against ISIS, which had depleted a lot of its power over the past three years. The forces would not have emerged victorious in their offensive against the terrorist group had they not enjoyed the backing of the international coalition that is combating ISIS.

In addition, the United States and Iraq signed an agreement in 2008, which was renewed in early 2018, in which Washington, and other members of the coalition, are obligated to provide military, security, political and economic support for Iraq. This includes combating ISIS and helping reconstruct regions damaged during the war against the group.

It would not be in Iraq’s interest for foreign troops to withdraw from the country, especially as ISIS has renewed it activity despite the declared victory against it in late 2017. The group has carried out attacks against Iraqi security forces and the military, as well as civilians, in vast areas of the country, such as Diyala in the east and al-Anbar and Nineveh in the West.

Furthermore, ISIS has reared its head towards Iraq from neighboring Syria where it has recaptured areas from the Syrian Democratic Forces. Security experts have estimated that some 3,000 ISIS members, including 800 Iraqis, are deployed in Syria’s border Hajin region alone. These fighters are prepared to exploit any oversight to infiltrate Iraqi territory.

The Iraqi defense ministry confirmed this information, saying that ISIS was trying to enter Iraq through Syria after its capture of two towns east of Deir Ezzour.

On the social level, Iraq has not been successful in its battle against ISIS. In fact, the group still finds safe havens in western regions and others stretching towards Baghdad. It has benefited from the state’s shortcomings in reconstructing regions damaged in the war and providing basic services to the millions of displaced. Moreover, residents in areas that were liberated from ISIS still complain of poor treatment by security forces. The higher human rights commission, an independent body overseen by the parliament, verified these complaints and found them valid.

The demand for the withdrawal of foreign troops in Iraq is reminiscent of the actions of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government in 2011. At the time, it was impatient in ending the deployment of tens of thousands of US troops under the pretext that it was securing Iraq’s sovereignty and independence. The government failed to ensure that the Iraqi forces that were set to replace the foreign troops were competent enough to confront the terrorist threat.

As it turned out, they were not. Less than two-and-a-half years after the American troop withdrawal, a third of Iraq fell in the hands of ISIS. The defeat of the terror group needed a three-year war at a massive financial and human cost, and some regions are still living under ISIS threat.

Perhaps the pro-Iran blocs in parliament sought to use the foreign troop withdrawal issue to force the US to ease the sanctions against Tehran. Iran, however, will not benefit much financially from the American withdrawal from Iraq. The US will not lose much if it found itself in a position where it needed to reconsider its deployment and withdraw troops as it did in 2011. Iraq will be the greatest loser of the withdrawal, which will have dire repercussions on the country.

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