FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Who Wants Those Troops to Stay in Iraq?

by PATRICK COCKBURN

The United States is negotiating to keep several thousand troops in Iraq beyond the official withdrawal date at the end of the year, but its influence in the country is being eclipsed by Iran and Turkey.

The US and Iraq are discussing whether some 10,000 American soldiers should remain as a symbol of continuing US engagement in Iraq and for training purposes. Officials in Washington have suggested that there may be an even lower residual force of between 3,000 and 4,000 men, but this may be a negotiating ploy to get the fractious Iraqi government to make a decision.

Whatever the final figure, the number will be a fraction of the 146,000 soldiers who were in Iraq in early 2009; their departure means America’s status is waning as a foreign power in the country.

Iranian influence is growing in Baghdad because of the escalating struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims across the region. The Shia-dominated coalition government in Baghdad is worried that the Sunni uprising in Syria may displace Bashar al-Assad and his regime, whose leaders come mostly from the Alawite Shia sect. The Iraqi Shia also strongly sympathize with the Shia majority in Bahrain, whose movement for democracy has been ruthlessly crushed by the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy with the backing of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Kurds and many of the Sunni in Iraq, together almost 40 per cent of the population, would like a continuing US military presence to balance the influence of the Shia majority at home and of Iran abroad.

The Kurds would like the US to continue its role in defusing tensions in the large areas of northern Iraq where Kurdish and Arab populations are intermingled. Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, paranoid about Iranian influence, want US troops to stay, to keep out Iran.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, owes his job to his ability to balance between Washington and Tehran. But he was only able to form a new government thanks to the support of the powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his party, which espouses a mix of Shi’ism, nationalism and populism. Sadr followers are to hold a rally in Baghdad Friday demanding a full US withdrawal.

Turkey’s influence is growing in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East because it is a Muslim state with a strong government, prospering economy, powerful army and large population. It is able to project growing authority among Arab states such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrain, Tunisia and Libya, all of which have been weakened by wars, civil wars and rebellions. Iraq remains weak because of its sectarian and ethnic divisions. “There is no national identity any longer,” Ghassan al-Attiyah, an Iraqi political scientist and commentator, said. “Iraqis are either Sunni, Shia or Kurd.” Attiyah said Iran will ultimately tolerate a small US force remaining in Iraq, because the majority of US troops will have gone and those remaining are too few to be militarily effective. “Will the Iranians find 10,000 men too many?” Attiyah asked. “I doubt it.”

Iraqi politicians have in the past said they suspect Iran might like some American soldiers to remain in Iraq because they present a target for attack by special military groups, drawn from the Sadrist movement but controlled by Iran.

The US, for its part, will try to retain its influence in Iraq by operating through the CIA, forces attached to the US embassy and military contractors.

Iraqi divisions mean that foreign states will play a big role in the country, but, while they will struggle for influence, none has an interest in seeing the country relapse into civil war.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq and Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq.

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail