Dr Majid Mohammad Sharifi, in an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said that Masoud Barzani’s remarks on the need for US troops to stay in Iraq should be considered within the general mood in the country. He noted: The developments following the martyrdom of General Suleimani and his companions created an atmosphere in Iraq that they felt they had to show a reaction. At a meeting in which Sunni and Kurdish representatives were not present, the Iraqi parliament approved that US troops should leave Iraq.
After this resolution, the positions of the government, the Iraqi Parliament and even all of Adel Abdul Mahdi’s conversations and personal statements were gradually shifted against their initial stance that the Americans should leave Iraq. Even in the latest comment, Abdul Mahdi entrusted the matter to the next Iraqi government.
Referring to a conversation between the resigned Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi and Trump, said: He called the Americans ‘our friends’ and said we must understand the situation in Iraq, we have friends who are five thousand miles away and a neighbour with five thousand years of interaction.”
Best Option for Iraq: Balance between Iran, US
Mohammad Sharifi added: “When we put these words together with other positions, it shows that the Iraqi government sees the best option in striking a balance between Iran and the United States.” Baghdad neither wants a quick withdrawal from Iraq nor does it have the will or power to restrict Iran. Even many Iraqi security forces who took a stance after this did not appreciate the US departure to be in favour of Iraq.
The international affairs analyst said that Pompeo has said that the Iraqis in private meetings had told him they did not need to leave Iraq, adding: The outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister left the matter to the National Security Council with plans to deal with these developments. The National Security Council put forward three options for Adel Abdul Mahdi: The first plan was for the Americans to leave early. The second plan was phased pullout, and the third option was for US troops to stay in Iraq, but only to train Iraqi forces, not to engage in any operations and not fly their planes.
Sharifi said that the current Iraqi government itself agrees that Americans should stay in Iraq at least for the short term and should decide for the long term how to reduce this presence.
The US Plans to Expand Presence in Iraqi Kurdistan
“The Americans have several plans to expand their presence in Iraqi Kurdistan,” the professor of international relations said on news reports that the US had agreed with Barzani to build new US military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. They have concluded for several reasons that their presence in Iraqi Kurdistan is more favourable than Baghdad and its green zone. First, Kurds tend to be very inclined to the Americans, and the way Kurds deal with Americans is quite different from the Sunnis and Shias in Iraq. They have long-standing friendships and are longtime allies, so Americans are more welcome by the Kurds in the region.
“The other thing is that in this region, the security problems for American forces are greatly reduced and there is no longer any force that wants to attack or shoot them,” he said. If it were to come from the Shiites, it would cause the Shiites and Kurds to clash, which would be internal conflict and the Americans would still be the winners because they could put the Kurds under pressure by claiming that the Shiites do not recognize their sovereignty.
Commenting on the third reason that Americans want to increase their presence in Iraqi Kurdistan compared to Shiite and Sunni areas, Sharifi said: “With their presence in Iraqi Kurdistan, they are getting closer to the Iranian borders, and intelligence and spying are much more likely for them.”
The university professor also said that it had long been argued that Americans should reduce their presence and pull out their troops for various reasons. Secretary of State Pompeo submitted a detailed report to the Congress in July 2019 in which he demanded a cut in the number of staff at the Iraqi Embassy by a certain period, namely by May 2020.
“What I estimated was that about half of the staff at the US embassy in Iraq were leaving,” he said. On several occasions, including rocket attacks, in some stages, the Americans withdrew their State Department staff from Iraq and they never returned. The question arose as to why they would not return to Iraq after the state of emergency was lifted. It turned out to be a plan to gradually reduce embassy staff in Iraq.
Heavy Presence of US Troops in Region Hampers Focus on China, Russia
The US Department of Defense also has a plan to cut US troop presence in Iraq over a specified period, the international relations professor said. Pentagon documents show that the US Department of Defense has concluded that heavy presence of US military equipment in the region, in the long run, would serve the interests of their international rivals, such as Russia and China, while focusing on these two rivals is in their grand strategy, so they should reduce their presence in the Middle East crises as much as possible.
America in No Hurry to Withdraw Troops from the Region
“But in the current situation, they are in no hurry to do so because they believe that if this happens, the balance of power will shift to competitors like Iran, so they do not want to do so in the short term,” Sharifi added. If they find that the balance has been created and that they have been able to control the situation, they will reduce their forces.
He evaluated the US action in assassination of General Suleimani in this line and said: “The US Department of Defense had concluded that the process of action and reaction that is taking place in Iraq whereby to define the deterrence on the basis that they continue supply troop and equipment to the region should end because it is not in their interest. That’s why Mr. Esper said one day before the assassination of Mr Suleimani at a news conference with the chief of staff of the US military that the game with Iran has changed and we want to take action to implement it. He also said after the assassination that our move was game-changing.
Mohammad Sharifi emphasized that we should distinguish Erbil in terms of reducing US military presence in Iraq: It is not the Americans themselves who want to leave the region. Many US military officials have insisted that the United States is not going to leave the region, but that they are changing the position of their forces in the region and have come to the conclusion that the best place to do this is in Iraqi Kurdistan. When they are concentrated in this area they will not need that many troops.
In America, some Want Iraq’s Disintegration
The university professor also noted the possibility of a renewed scheme for the disintegration of Iraq in the event of a massive US military presence in Kurdistan, as well as a meeting in the United Arab Emirates on Iraq’s breakup: There is much controversy about the UAE conference. Some strongly denied their presence at the meeting. The news has been circulated in Iraqi media and, assuming the meeting is held, there are some in the United States who believe in the disintegration of Iraq, for example, Joe Biden is a major supporter of the disintegration of Iraq. The Obama administration also had a similar plan.
“The issue that came up and made the Americans overlook the matter was the balance of power in the region; they concluded that balance of power would be complete to their disadvantage.” If this happens, the Shiites will get fully close to Tehran and Iran will have a very heavy presence. Given the population of the region and the resources in the Shiite region, they will become fully dominant in the Sunni area, and the US will be responsible for resolving the economic and security issues of the Sunni region.
The international affairs analyst, noting that even the Sunnis of Iraq did not welcome the Americans, said: “The Sunnis may do things for the benefit of the United States, but the Americans know that they have little acceptance among the Sunnis.” Because the Sunnis in Iraq view the situation today an outcome of the US invasion of Iraq and believe that if the United States had not invaded Iraq and had not overthrown Saddam, the Sunnis would not be in such conditions.
Sharifi said at the time being and even in a predictable near future, Iraq’s disintegration is not possible. “By doing so, the balance of power would be at the expense of the Americans at all costs, unless geopolitical changes occur in the Middle East so that they would move in this direction,” he said.
Iraq’s Disintegration Out of the Question for Now
He said for the Americans the disintegration of Iraq was out of the question for now. “The Americans themselves were one of the main opponents of Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence. The referendum was indeed held, but the Americans themselves opposed it, declaring that they would not accept it because then there would be no conditions and elements that would serve their interests. It would also face serious opposition from Iraq, Iran and Turkey and will lead to many crises that will be very difficult to manage. They would not do so in this situation and that is why they are reluctant. The case is more serious, especially in Mr Trump’s administration.