26.02.2024 Author: Viktor Mikhin

The Middle East and a new expected US fiasco

The Middle East and a new expected US fiasco

Major General Yahya Rasul, spokesman for the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces, condemned recent US strikes on Iraqi army and anti-terrorist group bases and facilities as “unacceptable” and a “blatant” violation of the country’s sovereignty. These military bases and facilities belong to the Iraqi armed forces and Iraqi anti-terrorist resistance groups from the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units (Al-Hashd al-Shaabi) and Kata’ib Hezbollah.

“In a clear effort to harm security and stability in Iraq, the United States has resumed its airstrikes against Iraqi military units of the army and popular mobilisation forces. This unacceptable act […] blatantly violates Iraqi sovereignty and promotes irresponsible escalation”, the Iraqi general pointed out, before emphasising that the US attacks came at a time when the region was already facing the risk of expanding conflict as a result of the consequences of the Israeli war in the Gaza Strip, that immoral war of extermination against Palestinian civilians.

In this regard, as all Iraqi media outraged by the actions of the Americans point out, Iraq will take all necessary actions, including filing a complaint against Washington with the United Nations Security Council. Thus, the Iraqi government will take all legitimate measures to achieve this goal. That is why the office of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani announced in a statement the decision to form a committee chaired by the Iraqi National Security Adviser, Qasim al-Arji, to investigate the attacks and gather information in order to support the Government’s position on this issue at the international level and to provide accurate evidence and information. The investigation will be brought to the attention of the Iraqi public and the international community.

In accordance with Baghdad’s February 11 decision, Iraq and the United States began a dialogue to discuss ending the U.S.-led international coalition’s mission in Iraq. Yahya Rasul said the High Military Commission resumed meetings with the international coalition to assess the military situation, the level of threat posed by the Islamic State group (banned in Russia) and the capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces. Yahya Rasul said that on the basis of these meetings, a timetable will be established for the gradual reduction of the number of advisers of the international coalition in Iraq, which will lead to the end of the coalition’s mission to combat ISIL (banned in Russia) and the transition to bilateral relations between Iraq and coalition partner countries. Meetings with the international coalition will be held periodically to finalise the commission’s work as soon as possible.

It is understandable that both the White House and the Pentagon, after their disgraceful flight from Afghanistan, are very reluctant to withdraw their soldiers from Iraq and Syria. That’s probably why Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin left open the possibility of reducing the US military presence in Iraq, saying that these meetings between officials from the two countries would allow “a transition to a strong bilateral security partnership” based on years of joint operations against the Islamic State (an international terrorist organisation banned in Russia). Austin, in a statement released by the Pentagon, recalled that U.S. troops remain in Iraq at the invitation of the government in Baghdad. These meetings of the U.S.-Iraqi High Military Commission, comprised of national security officials from both governments, will consider the presence of U.S. troops in the country, taking into account the threat posed by the militants, the continuing requirements and the capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces.

Suffice it to say that since 7 October, US military positions in Iraq and Syria have been attacked at least 153 times by militia groups, including incidents in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil and at Al-Asad airbase in the western part of the country. Pentagon officials note that about 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Iraq and that 900 are deployed in Syria as a buffer to prevent a resurgence of the “Islamic State” (an international terrorist organisation banned in Russia). But Iraqi officials have increasingly shown anger and rage when the United States retaliates with airstrikes. Such U.S. strikes on the leadership and headquarters of Iraq’s popular militias have only fuelled the campaign against the presence of the U.S.-led so-called international anti-Iraqi coalition here. For their part, the militias link their attacks to the war in Gaza and US support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas and the extermination of Palestinian civilians.

The topic is far from new. Back in 2020, the country’s parliament voted in favour of withdrawing US forces from Iraq. However, the government pretended that there were no combat units at the US bases – only trainers and advisers (about 2,500 people). And the bases are allegedly not American, but Iraqi. This time, for the first time, the country’s leadership is presenting the decision to withdraw the coalition contingents as final and unconditional. The shift of emphasis is significant. Whereas before the US could do what it wanted, now it has been shown the door.

The importance of the coalition’s advisory mission in the fight against ISIL (an international terrorist organisation banned in Russia) in Iraq was no longer talked about in October, when the escalation had just begun. Now the Iraqis claim that they themselves are capable of fighting back the terrorists. Thus, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani said on 10 January that the withdrawal of forces led by the United States should take place in a short period of time – “in order to prevent a repeat of the exchange of blows”. He stressed that against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, the presence of the Americans in the country harms Iraq’s stability, angers ordinary Iraqis and perplexes officials. Their departure, according to the Prime Minister, will only “prevent the growth of tensions and solve many internal and regional security problems”. For balance, he made a slight curtsy to Washington, mentioning that the timing of the withdrawal still needs to be negotiated. But it is clear that everything now depends on the Iraqi leadership: how decisive it will be about the withdrawal of US troops, the state that, having committed a brazen aggression against the sovereign republic in 2003, still keeps its troops in Iraq.

It is indicative that the pro-American Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein (Kurdistan Democratic Party) was forced to voice similar theses for the first time. Although he probably remains in fact one of the main supporters of the continued US presence. In addition to condemning the US strikes, the Foreign Minister said that the decision on the withdrawal of foreign military is in the exclusive competence of Baghdad. The outcome of future negotiations with Washington will show exactly what it will be. It seems that the trigger for this process was not only the clumsy U.S. retaliation against the militias fighting the remnants of ISIS (an international terrorist organisation banned in Russia) on Iraqi soil. It is obvious that the government of Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani and the Tehran that supports him is trying to take advantage of the weakening of the US “sinister grip” on Iraq.

The internal political situation also contributes to the implementation of the course of the Shiite coalition ruling in Baghdad to squeeze the Americans out of Iraq. Both of Washington’s main allies in the country, the Kurds and the Sunnis, are not going through the best of times. The former has become totally dependent on Baghdad because of their dire financial situation. Erbil has already resigned itself to the fact that no help can be expected from its main patron. The latter are extremely divided, and as the struggle for the post of parliament speaker after the deposition of Mohamed Al-Halbousi shows, they are unlikely to overcome their split at any outcome. In such conditions, the Shiite leadership of the country is naturally tempted to overcome the dependence on the U.S., which was established in 2003, and to restore the lost sovereignty in the sphere of security and, if possible, in the sphere of finance.

But these are just loud statements. In reality, the Iraqis are unlikely to achieve the desired result quickly. The U.S. cannot completely leave Iraqi territory, otherwise the logistical scheme of supplying U.S. units in Syria will be destroyed. By the way, Washington is also thinking about possible reduction of military presence in the Syrian Arab Republic. The American magazine “Foreign policy” has published leaks on this matter, and Washington itself has started a discussion on the possible withdrawal of the American contingent from the Syrian Arab Republic. According to some reports, the number of those in favour of the withdrawal of the US contingent from this Arab country is growing in the administration on the Capitol.

The “confusion” that has begun in American agencies about the Syrian Arab Republic is a sign of the Washington administration’s growing concern about the security of the contingent in that Arab republic. Especially against the background of the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the increasing intensity of attacks by pro-Iranian groups against US bases in Syria and Iraq. Also symptomatic in this regard is the CNN report, citing informed sources, that without a military presence in Iraq, maintaining the contingent in the Syrian Arab Republic will be even more problematic due to the lack of logistical support. And although Biden’s team continues to publicly state that the issue of winding down the group’s activities in Syria is not under consideration, the administration has already started the process of developing appropriate proposals.

Of course, the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and Syria is not a simple matter and may take months or even years. However, as some analysts believe, the process could go faster. Especially in the case of Trump coming to power, who has already tried to end the “anti-terrorist” mission in the Syrian Arab republic. As Agence France-Presse notes, in an apparent attempt to play along with Washington, the withdrawal of US troops will cause chaos in the region and a surge in the activity of terrorist groups.

In the light of the current events, a reasonable question arises: what did the White House achieve by spending trillions of dollars, irrevocably losing thousands of servicemen and a large amount of military equipment and weapons? After all, none of the political and military goals were achieved. It was not possible to prove the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda (banned in Russia) created by the Americans themselves, biological and bacteriological means of warfare were not found, even the creation of nuclear weapons and the presence of uranium was a clumsy fiction of Washington. The Assad regime in Syria has withstood all the clumsy military vicissitudes on the part of the Americans, whose only military production at present is occupation of oil wells and stealing oil from there for the needs of their army. It is highly probable that under these circumstances, the hegemon, which is nearing its sunset, is once again expecting another Middle East disgrace like the Afghan one. But, as the Russian proverb says, what we have fought for, we have met with.


Victor MIKHIN, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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