Iraq in US eyes

D. Alnasser Drid

Anthony Cordesman is one of the most prominent analyser in the US national security and he actually occupies the post of Arleigh Albert Burke (US Navy Chief of Staff in the 2nd world war) in the Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and he is considered a prominent expert in the Gulf affairs, power, Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iraqi and Afghani Affairs and general issues of Middle East. He is now 80 years. He spent more than fifty years in the Middle East studies and he recently wrote an article titled “The Strategy the US Should Pursue in Iraq” on the CSIS website in Feb12, 2019. In the article, Cordesman stated that:

The future security and stability of Iraq is a vital United States national security interest. Iraq is a critical component to any kind of stability in the Gulf and to the secure flow of petroleum to the global economy. It is a key to containing Iranian influence, and enhancing the security of our Arab security partners and Israel. It is a key to countering the image that the United States invaded Iraq for the wrong reasons in 2003 and left it weak, divided, and unstable. And, Iraq is a key to countering the increasing fears on the part of our regional security partners that the U.S. is leaving or reducing its security role in the Gulf.

The U.S. cannot afford to leave a power vacuum in Iraq. It must deal with Iraq’s remaining security problems and military weaknesses, and deal with its grave political divisions, problems in governance, and years without effective economic growth and development. At the same time, the U.S. needs to recognize that it faces very real rivals for influence in Iraq, and a nation that has a long and strong history of nationalism and sensitivity to foreign pressure – despite its deep sectarian and ethnic divisions

The United States cannot dictate to Iraq or successfully bully it over burden sharing or use it a base against Iran. It may, however, be able to help Iraq become a much stronger and more unified country. It may be able to help Iraq make a successful transition back to having an effective self-defense capability and internal security forces. It may be able to help Iraq resolve its deep political divisions, improve its governance, and move back towards successful economic development rather than rely on its petroleum income levels that cannot meet the needs and expectations of its people.

This, however, can only be accomplished by respecting Iraqi sovereignty and treating Iraq as a partner, rather than as some form of client state. The United States must clearly communicate to Iraq’s different factions that the U.S seeks a strong and independent nation, will defer to Iraq’s own vision of its needs and goals, and will steadily reduce its presence as Iraq makes progress towards meeting these goals.

    No mix of such U.S. efforts can guarantee success. The warnings about Iraqi weaknesses and lack of unity that the Director of National Intelligence raised in presenting his annual Worldwide Threat Assessment to Congress this January are all too real:

“Iraq is facing an increasingly disenchanted public. The underlying political and economic factors that facilitated the rise of ISIS persist, and Iraqi Shia militias’ attempts to further entrench their role in the state increase the threat to US personnel.”

The Iraqi Government will confront a high level of societal discontent, institutional weakness, and deep-seated divisions, as well as protests over a lack of services, high unemployment, and political corruption. Baghdad lacks the resources or institutional capacity to address longstanding economic development and basic services challenges, and it faces reconstruction costs in the aftermath of the counter-ISIS campaign, estimated by the World Bank at $88 billion. Iraq’s Kurdistan region is still dealing with political discontent over economic and territorial losses to Baghdad last year.

ISIS remains a terrorist and insurgent threat and will seek to exploit Sunni grievances with Baghdad and societal instability to eventually regain Iraqi territory against Iraqi security forces that are stretched thin.

Iraqi Shia militants conducted several attacks against US diplomatic facilities in Iraq in September and December 2018. Militias—some of which are also part of the Iraqi Government Popular Mobilization Committee—plan to use newfound political power gained through positions in the new government to reduce or remove the US military presence while competing with the Iraqi security forces for state resources.

So are his warnings about Iran – which at best can be counted on to present a continuing political challenge to any future U.S. role in Iraq,

“We assess that Iran will attempt to translate battlefield gains in Iraq and Syria into long-term political, security, social, and economic influence while continuing to press Saudi Arabia and the UAE by supporting the Huthis in Yemen.”

In Iraq, Iran-supported Popular Mobilization Committee-affiliated Shia militias remain the primary threat to US personnel, and we expect that threat to increase as the threat ISIS poses to the militias recedes, Iraqi Government formation concludes, some Iran-backed groups call for the United States to withdraw, and tension between Iran and the United States grows. We continue to watch for signs that the regime might direct its proxies and partners in Iraq to attack US interests.

The U.S. will face further problems in dealing with Turkey, Russia, and probably China. Erdogan has increasingly relied on state terrorism to enhance his power in Turkey, and on using the Kurds as an excuse to expand Turkey’s influence and his own Islamic agenda. He is likely to put as much pressure on Iraq and the U.S. over the Kurdish issue in Iraq as he has applied in Syria.

Russia will probably exploit any opportunity to gain influence in Iraq and weaken the U.S. position, and is already competing with the U.S. to provide arms transfers to Iraq. SIPIRI estimates that Russia provided 20% of all Iraq arms imports between 2012 and 2017 versus 57% from the U.S. and the CRS reports that Russia has discussed much larger sales – many of which would require Russian in-country support.

The new U.S. National Security Strategy issued in 2017 and 2018 calls for a U.S. focus on the threat from both Russia and China, and Arab sources indicate that China has already become more active in seeking to expand its influence in Iraq. Even some Iraqis who do support strong ties to the U.S. already see Russia and China as ways of countering over-dependence on the U.S

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