The political, economic, and overall situation in Iraq continues to decline, forcing not only local authorities, but foreign players in this country torn apart by armed US aggression, to actively search for ways to bring it into at least something resembling order.
Discontent among the population at the presence of coalition and, above all others, American forces, which have been located in Iraq since 2003, has lately been doing nothing but increase. The premises of the US embassy in Baghdad’s “Green Zone” were yet again subjected to rocket attacks (on the night before 5 July), and attacks on US military personnel persist. Media outlets affirm that in July alone the American military presence in Iraq has suffered two powerful strikes, one of which was politically motivated. This refers to the announcement made by Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who called the murder of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani on 3 January by Washington a crime, since it violates the norms of international law, despite American rhetoric that it was self-defense.
As far as the second strike is concerned, the main target for Iraqi militants in recent times has been the logistics routes used for rear services support by the US Air Force. For example, on 12 July in the southern part of the country, between the cities of As-Samawah and Diwaniya, a US base supply convoy was hit by unknown attackers. It was reported that US service personnel had intended to redeploy their transport vehicles to Syria, but the military convoy unexpectedly wound up under attack, and judging by the destruction there were both casualties and losses of American equipment.
It is becoming more apparent that the United States is unlikely to abandon its Al Asad Airbase, the military terminal at Baghdad airport, or the Camp Taji installation, since otherwise their logistics routes, which stretch from its base in Kuwait through Iraq to the Syrian Trans-Euphrates, would be disrupted. And Washington definitely has no intentions of leaving the Trans-Euphrates, where there are substantial reserves of natural resources, and quite the contrary – it does not conceal its desire to expand its presence in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Turkey is now seriously strengthening its foothold, causing mounting concern in Baghdad. And if Washington does manage to squeeze Ankara out of the Kirkuk oilfields, then that would be a significant victory for the United States in Iraq, and afterwards it would even be able to move on to the next stage: deploying an advanced base in Diyala Province, near the western border of Iran.
Nonetheless, the calls for Washington to withdraw its occupying forces are not stopping. For example, on 15 July the Iraqi Al-Alam News Network stated that Mahmoud al-Rabiyi, an official representative of the political leadership for the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq movement in Iraq, once again underscored how vital it is to withdraw US military forces from the country as per the decision made by the Iraqi parliament.
Against the backdrop of Turkey’s airborne operations in the Haftanin region of Iraqi Kurdistan, both anti-American and anti-Turkish sentiment is growing in Iraq. On 13 July, Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Fatah alliance in the Iraqi parliament, issued a political statement warning that Turkey’s invasion of Iraq is testimony to a dangerous situation that shows how Ankara is trying to create a “security belt” there, just like northern Syria. Describing Turkey’s hostile actions in northern Iraq as not beneficial for the two countries, al-Amiri urged Turkey to immediately withdraw from northern Iraq.
Besides the dissatisfaction that exists with the US and Turkish military presence in Iraq, growing criticism from Iraqis regarding the actions taken by Britain in the country has recently become more pronounced. For example, after statements made on 17 July by Steven Hickey, the British ambassador to the country, concerning the deterioration of security measures and how the presence of US troops there is justified in this regard, Nasr al-Shimri, who is a representative of the Iraqi Al-Nujaba movement, and Naim al-Abudi, a member of the Sadegun faction in the Iraqi parliament, cautioned the British ambassador against interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs. In a message on Twitter, al-Shimri specifically asked Hickey: “Could Iraq possibly have the right to build 20 military bases in Great Britain, and have an embassy that accommodates thousands of Iraqis?”
Under these conditions, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi decided to visit Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United States to discuss the current situation with these foreign actors, and make adjustments to their joint action plan. However, due to the hospitalization of the Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Al-Kadhimi’s visit to Saudi Arabia was postponed, although the Iraqi prime minister still received the needed unofficial guidance from Riyadh, including on the Saudis’ peace initiatives with respect to Tehran.
Therefore, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, began his first foreign official visit not with Riyadh, but Tehran, where he arrived on 21 July heading a high-ranking political and economic delegation, which included, among other people, foreign affairs, oil, energy, finance, defense, and healthcare ministers, as well as the national security adviser to the Iraqi president. Following those talks, representatives from the Iraqi and Iranian authorities demonstrated their determination to expand joint economic cooperation and increase bilateral trade up to 20 billion USD. The Prime Minister of Iraq emphasized that officials in Baghdad will never allow any threat to emanate from its territory toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, and declared: “Iraq has also taken a stand alongside Iran to overcome economic problems”. Concerning those statements, experts noted that Iran is considering Iraq as a possible route to use to circumvent sanctions imposed by the US, which were imposed again by President Donald Trump on Tehran after America withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal framework.
In his speech, Iranian Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei emphasized that opponents of deepening Iranian-Iraqi relations do exist, and one of them is the United States. Along with that, he stated: “Iran does not interfere in the relations between Iraq and the United States, but does expect that its Iraqi friends will realize the fundamental nature of the United States, and that a US presence in any country is a source of corruption, destruction, and devastation”. The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution also reminded those present: “Iran expects that the decision made by the government, parliament, and people in Iraq to expel the United States will be carried out”.
The visits abroad made by Al-Kadhimi will not be restricted to detailed negotiations with Saudi Arabia and Iran – Washington expects him to arrive by the end of the month. One month ago, Baghdad and Washington started to hold a series of talks as part of a strategic dialogue whose objective is to review all existing bilateral relations. Following the first rounds of these talks, the decision was made for the US to reduce its military presence in Iraq, and it will talk with Baghdad about the status that the American military personnel remaining in the country have. It is perfectly clear that Al-Kadhimi has no desire to turn Baghdad into a focal point for a showdown between Tehran and Washington, but it will not be easy to avoid that. As the former director of the country’s intelligence service, Al-Kadhimi understands full well the balance of power in Baghdad, as well as the fact that he needs to maintain a balance among all of the foreign players in Iraq. And although his sympathies lie more with the US, he does not want to be at loggerheads with Tehran.
Therefore, Iraqi politicians repeatedly emphasize that Baghdad is attempting to achieve balanced relations with all the foreign players involved, and sees itself as a force that plays a stabilizing role in the region.
How successful this tactic is, and whether Washington will allow Al-Kadhimi to adhere to it, can only be assessed following the results of the next visit made by the Iraqi prime minister to the United States.
Vladimir Platov, expert on Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.