After the Iraqi parliament’s emergency meeting on January 5 and passing a a bill to expel the foreign forces from Iraq, the exit of the American forces from Iraq is now a debate trending in the political circles worldwide. Meanwhile, some Iraqi observers and political parties raise the idea that in the current conditions, Iraq desperately needs the American military presence to continue on its soil. They warn that in case of removal of the American troops from Iraq, the problem will not be only the military vacuum; rather Iraq will sustain troubles and damages in terms of security, economy, reconstruction, and politics.
They argue that after the emergence of the ISIS terrorist group in the country in 2014 and the capture of vast swaths of land from the Iraqi forces, the US played a major role in the financial and military support to the Iraqi government, adding that the US expulsion now will push the country to a kind of comprehensive vacuum and potentially would impose heavy costs on the country mainly by helping ISIS’ reemergence.
Some have another opinion, however, arguing that not only the American withdrawal will not bring dangers to Iraq but also in the mid and long terms it can present positive results to Iraq. Here are some of what Iraq can do to fill the so-called vacuum caused by possible US withdrawal from the country.
Cutting military and security dependence on the US
The first and most important concern the opponents of the US withdrawal raise is Iraq’s military inability to defend itself in the face of threats like possible re-emergence of ISIS. A couple of points need to be considered here:
First, the Americans in the anti-ISIS battle only supported the Iraqi military from the air and the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fought the ground war to obliterate the self-proclaimed caliphate of ISIS.
Second, it is noteworthy that the American support to the Iraqi military in the long run not only could not be positive to Baghdad but also it could officially bring bankruptcy and defeat to the Iraqi army. The US and the US-led coalition’s support to Iraq’s military gave it dependent strength distancing it from sustainable and independent growth. The Iraqi forces desperately need home equipment and training so that they can repel threats without a need for foreign help. After all, reliance on the West is not a remedial idea as the Westerners abandon their allies in the time of need.
Third, at present many regional and international actors are ready to fill the vacuum caused by the US pullout from Iraq. China, for example, told Baghdad it was ready to engage in massive military training and equipping cooperation with Iraq if the US pulls out of Iraq. Russia, another power, told Iraq it was ready to provide the Iraqi military with state-of-the-art S-400 air defense systems and fighter jets. These messages of readiness to help Baghdad reveal the US presence and support is not as important as it is exaggerated.
Fourth, when it came to ISIS battle and security cooperation especially after 2014, it was the fatwa by Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sistani for public mobilization and also the effective management of General Soleimani that caused the Iraq military and the voluntary forces to make their way to victory against ISIS. It apparently was not the American cooperation to help Iraq win the fierce fight against terrorism. When ISIS terrorists were only 10 kilometers away from Baghdad and the capital could fall any time, it was Tehran that mobilized its capacities and rushed to help Iraq. Iran always has assured Iraqis that they can enjoy its support in the future too. Dependence on the Americans can only bring a big defeat to the Iraqis in the long run.
Iraq’s financial and economic reliance on the US
Yet another argument by the opponents of the US exit is that if Iraq expels the American troops, Washington will end its financial aids to Iraq and also very likely Trump will impose sanctions on Baghdad that would damage the already-struggling Iraq’s economy. But the reality is that the American and Western supports to Iraq are not as big as they are painted. Furthermore, they so far have not brought anything to Iraq but huge debts. And if Trump realizes his threats of sanctioning Iraq, he sends signals of enmity to the Iraqis telling them that the US is not an ally to their country as it claims and that over the past few years it only masked itself as an ally. This will not only trigger a new crisis with Iraq but also embolden the Iraqis to push harder for the American exit from their country.