Speaking in an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Seyed Abdol Majid Zavari said that announcement of the US officials’ decision to leave Iraq could be examined and analyzed from several angles, adding: On the one hand, this move could be seen as a shift in the US strategic priorities due to the gradual decline of the Middle East importance to Washington officials and the need to focus more on the East and contain China; and on the other hand, the Americans claim that their mission in the region has ended due to the collapse of the structure of ISIS and terrorist groups in the region.
Noting that despite the reasons announced by the Pentagon officials, both formally and unofficially, there have been more important reasons in this regard, saying: There is no doubt that with the US self-sufficiency in oil production, dependence of the White House on West Asian oil resources has been diminished, and as with the intensification of China’s threats, its containment has become a top strategic priority for the White House officials.
The analyst of West Asia affairs, commenting on the US decision to continue its presence in Iraq as an advisor, said: Nevertheless, the geopolitical situation in the Middle East is so important that US officials cannot be indifferent to developments in this strategic region. In other words, it is naive to imagine a country that, according to its officials, has spent thousands of billions of dollars in the region, suddenly abandon its interests and leave the region.
Negative cost balance – benefit of American presence in Iraq
Zavari stressed that the decision of US officials to withdraw their forces from the region should be evaluated due to the lack of a positive cost-benefit balance of the presence, explaining: This issue, especially after the martyrdom of Sardar Soleimani by the United States and the increase of attacks by resistance groups against US positions and forces in the region have finally led the US strategists to conclude that in order to prevent further casualties, withdraw from some countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, or with the change in the type of their presence reduce its sensitivity.
However, he added: Of course, this does not mean a complete withdrawal of the United States from the region, and as implicitly stated in the statements of some US officials and experts, part of the American forces in the region will remain under the cover of intelligence-security cooperation.
According to the Director of the Institute of International Relations, given the history of US operations in various regions, including Afghanistan, we may see the resurgence of terrorism in Iraq and Syria so that those groups will prevent establishment of complete stability in the region and strengthening the influence of Iran and resistance groups in the region. Thus, despite the Iraqi parliament’s decision for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, senior Iraqi officials sometimes fear that the existing fragile security will be further undermined by the US withdrawal.
Four scenarios facing Iraq and the region
Saying that with regard to the importance and conditions of the region, the overall landscape of the region and Iraq after the measure of the Americans can be summarized in four scenarios, he noted: We may see the situation continue. In this scenario, despite the announcement of the officials of the two countries that withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, will be postponed until an unknown date due to the avoidance of the security vacuum and the lobby of Washington regional allies, and the current situation will practically continue; however, there will be many dangers for American forces.
He said: In response, resistance groups continue to attack US positions, with the United States launching occasional attacks and pressuring Iraqi officials to integrate resistance groups into the Iraqi army to contain the forces and reduce its casualties in Iraq and other countries in the region.
The expert on West Asia affairs said presence of the US military forces as advisor in Iraq is another possible option for the country’s future, adding: In this scenario, US troops will leave Iraq in several stages and their military bases will be handed over to the Iraqi army. However, at the request of Iraq, they will be maintained or transferred for the purpose of training Iraqi military forces as well as intelligence cooperation with Iraq.
Zavari continued: In this scenario, due to the invisibility of the activities of American forces, public opinion and various groups are likely to be less sensitive to their presence. Also, since this presence was at the request of Iraq, the hands of the White House officials will be open to obtain more concessions and impose the desired conditions. In the meantime, the United States will strengthen its ties with civil society and non-governmental organizations to expand its influence in Iraqi society and to implement its intended reforms in political, economic, and social structures.
He described the full withdrawal of US troops from Iraq as another scenario to prevent further casualties, and stressed the need to address the security vacuum following the withdrawal. In addition, attention should be paid to the possibility of handing over the US mission to its allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, or Turkey. In fact, despite the US withdrawal from Iraq, it is defining an active role in Iraq and its environs for one of its regional allies to prevent infiltration of rivals, including Iran, into the region and to prevent transfer of the field to a rival.
The expert on Iraq affairs said: In fact, while reducing its spending in the region, the United States can maintain its gains and interests in the region so that, at the appropriate time, it can once again provide the basis for a seemingly larger US presence.
Referring to reports that the troops who will remain on Iraqi soil will work in the field of intelligence support, he added: Given that this presence was done at the request of the Iraqi government, American forces are gaining more legitimacy and their hands will be more open to get more points and impose their desired conditions.
Referring to the implications of the US presence as advisor and its intelligence activities in Iraq, Zavari said: Such a presence would allow Washington to gain a deeper understanding and connection with the Iraqi political, social, economic and military body in the medium term, and over time provide the conditions for its desired changes and the strengthening of groups close to it and the marginalization of resistance groups from various strata of the Iraqi society.