FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Who Wants Those Troops to Stay in Iraq?

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.

 

More articles by:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
James McFadden
The Business Party Syndicate
Ajamu Baraka
Trump Prosecutors Make Move to Ensure that Embassy Protectors are Convicted
David Swanson
CNN is Trash
Rev. William Alberts
Finally a Christian Call for Trump’s Removal
Dave Lindorff
The ERA Just Got Ratified by Virginia, the Needed 38th State!
W. T. Whitney
Mexico Takes Action on Coup in Bolivia and on CELAC
Steve Early
How General Strike Rhetoric Became a Reality in Seattle 
Jessicah Pierre
Learning From King’s Last Campaign
Mark Dickman
Saint Greta and the Dragon
Jared Bernstein - Dean Baker
Reducing the Health Care Tax
Clark T. Scott
Uniting “Progressives” Instead of Democrats
Nilofar Suhrawardy
Trump & Johnson: What a Contrast, Image-wise!
Ron Jacobs
Abusing America’s Children—Free Market Policy
George Wuerthner
Mills Are Being Closed by National Economic Trends, Not Environmental Regulations
Basav Sen
Nearly All Americans Want Off of Fossil Fuels
Mark Ashwill
Playing Geopolitical Whack-a-Mole: The Viet Nam Flag Issue Revisited
Jesse Jackson
New Hope for One of America’s Poorest Communities
Binoy Kampmark
Harry and Meghan Exit: The Royal Family Propaganda Machine
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again!
Rob Okun
A Call to Men to join Women’s March
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
We All Need to Be Tree Huggers Now
Tom Stephens
The New York Times’ Delusions of Empire
Julian Rose
Fake-Green Zero Carbon Fraud
Louis Proyect
The Best Films of 2019
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: Into Kosovo
Colin Todhunter
Gone Fishing? No Fish but Plenty of Pesticides and a Public Health Crisis
Julian Vigo
Can New Tech Replace In-Class Learning?
Gaither Stewart
The Bench: the Life of Things
Nicky Reid
Trannies with Guns: Because Enough is Enough!
James Haught
Baby Dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark
David Yearsley
Brecht in Berlin
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail