The US announcement of drawdown of its forces in Iraq has grabbed great importance on the Iraqi political stage as the country has declared cleansing its territories from ISIS and ending the terrorist group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, eliminating the pretext under which the US-led coalition sent forces to Iraq.
However, the current conditions Iraq is living bear a lot of challenges to Baghdad amid Washington's insistence to keep its military forces in the country as long as possible. This intent has been exposed by the recent comments made by the American officials who talked about the need for their military to stay long-term in Iraq.
Reports also emerged that Washington is seeking to guarantee its presence in the oil-rich country under the guise of NATO. Reuters has cited five senior NATO diplomats as saying that US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sent a letter to NATO headquarters in January calling for a formal NATO mission to Iraq with a semi-permanent or permanent command to train Iraqi forces.
In his letter, Mattis left many details open but suggested developing military academies and a military doctrine for the Iraqi defense ministry, diplomats said. Other ideas cited by diplomats include bomb disposal training, maintenance of Soviet-era vehicles and medical training.
Reuters quoted an unnamed NATO diplomat as saying that “The United States is pushing hard for a NATO role in Iraq, not in a combat role, but for a long-term assignment”.
“This looks suspiciously like another Afghanistan,” the diplomat added, referring to the long-running conflict where NATO is funding and training Afghan forces. “Few allies want that.”
The remarks highly contradicted the Iraqi government’s official comments about a schedule of the international coalition to cut its forces as the terrorist group is declared obliterated following Iraqi military forces' full reclaiming of the whole ISIS-held cities and regions across the country.
Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesman to the government, stated that the drawdown, which is coordinated with Baghdad, followed the end of the anti-ISIS military campaign, and there was no justification for the American troops to remain in Iraq. The remarks by the spokesman, however, were responded to by the Pentagon which said its forces' mission in Iraq was not over yet, adding that the US might only withdraw the heavy military vehicles and arms from the country.
On February 1, the US Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan in a press conference commented on the issue.
“We can’t make the mistakes that we’ve made in the past where we let our guard down, security – U.S. forces were withdrawn completely, and we saw what happened over a relatively short period of time: ISIS sprung up out of the remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he said.
He further told of the ISIS cells still remaining in Iraq that could pose security risks. At the same time, the US Department of Defense has denied that it had scheduled to pull out of Iraq anytime soon, noting that a Washington-Baghdad agreement allows it to redefine the mission of the forces operating in Iraq from combat to training to help the Iraqis improve their combat readiness.
The American officials’ comments were faced by widespread rejection of various political factions of Iraq who warned of the jeopardies of a new anti-Iraqi plot by the US and an undercover intention to re-occupy the country, or at least partition and subjugate it.
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, a key element of the anti-ISIS voluntary force Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), on Tuesday blasted the US refusal to pull out its forces, warning that the Iraqi response will be armed confrontation.
“We fought for the sovereignty of Iraq and for saving the political process. We will do the same against the foreign forces if they seek occupation and avoid pullout,” the movement’s spokesman Abu Warth al-Musawi was quoted as saying.
Kata’ib Hezbollah, another anti-ISIS force in Iraq, also came clean on the US stay. Its spokesman stated that the American presence in Iraq is “occupation.” He added that there is no time to debate what the presence of the American military in Iraq should be labeled. He further argued that the US-led alliance was made without Iraq’s will and that Americans entered Iraq uninvited.
These comments apparently exhibit the degree of Iraq’s rejection to the US plan to stay. But what are the reasons driving this rejection?
First, defeat of ISIS across the country and retaking the once-seized territories from the terrorists, including those on the Iraq-Syria borders. The credit, in this case, goes to the Iraqi army as well as the PMF who spearheaded the anti-terror campaign. ISIS obliteration in fact unquestionably strips the coalition forces and the Americans of the guise under which they deployed forces to Iraq.
Second, the US, attempting to justify its presence, said that part of its military will remain to accomplish a training mission. But it should be remembered that since the fall of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 and until ISIS emergence in 2014, the US prescribed and applied many Iraqi army training programs which cost Baghdad billions of dollars. But they evidently did not pay off. Rather, Iraq primarily freed itself from the yoke of ISIS on the strength of reliance on the voluntary forces in the training and equipping of whom the US did not involve.
Third, now it is clear to all that the US has never been serious in battling ISIS as much as it was busy directing the ISIS crisis for the good of its interests in the region. There is an abundance of evidence that prove Americans transferred cells of the retreating ISIS to safety, not to mention the arms and ammunition they airdropped for the terrorists.
Forth, the US, either through its official politicians or research institutes, have been taking negative stances against the PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi, calling for the voluntary forces’ dissolution. The US do not want Iraqi forces be able to preserve security and stability in their country, especially that these forces are expected to play a crucial role in the politics after the May parliamentary elections on the strength of their huge popularity and big chances of winning. Such a concern urges the US to stay in Iraq militarily to curb the future influence of the pro-sovereignty sides on the ground.
Fifth, the US attempts to secure its military presence in Iraq by attempts to foist its will on the central government through different-level meddling. Iraqis do not forget how Americans pressed the government to allow only a handpicked list of local forces to join the anti-ISIS offensives before it provided air cover.
Sixth, as the campaign for retaking territories was unfolding in Iraq, a US army helicopter struck a unit of Iraqi security forces in Sharim al-Baghdadi neighborhood of al-Anbar province, killing eight troops. This largely played a role in the Iraqi people’s revulsion at the American military presence on their country’s soil. Some analysts suggested that the strike was meant to send clear messages to the Iraqi leaders that they should involve Americans in some decision-making mechanisms.