Security and strategic concerns were raised on Tuesday after Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi said most US troops would leave the country in the coming days.
“Iraq has turned into an arena for liquidations and the challenges of global and regional wars on its soil,” the prime minister said during a speech on the occasion of the nation’s Army Day.
More than half of American forces will leave Iraq, the fruit of continuous strategic dialogue with the United States, while only hundreds of them will remain, to continue cooperation in the fields of training, rehabilitation and technical support, Kazemi said.
Ghanim al-Abid, a leading researcher on Iraqi affairs and an independent politician, told The Media Line the American presence remained vital, given that US forces were still busy carrying out raids on the headquarters and remnants of ISIS.
“The need for this American presence still exists,” Abid said.
The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq would allow Iran to take control in Baghdad even more than was currently the case, he explained.
The American presence provides a kind of safety net for investment in Iraq, Abid continued. “I think that the withdrawal of the American forces will have security and economic consequences, and Iraq will remain Iran’s backyard.
“In addition to the economic consequences, many American advisers are saying that once American forces withdraw they will not return, even if ISIS manages to conquer whole cities,” he said.
“Much will depend on the ability of Iraqi forces to project power across Iraq’s territory and keep those types of groups from taking hold,” Brian O’Toole, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics Program and a former senior official in the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, told The Media Line. “There are of course substantial issues with Iranian militias that have stronger connections to some in Iraq, especially in the southeast of the country. While in the long term there may be some calming of tensions in the region if US troops are gone from Iraq, I would not expect an immediate decline in tensions,” said O’Toole.
As for the larger Gulf region, Abid does not think it will be affected by the US withdrawal, as there are approximately 65,000 American and other Western military personnel at bases in Kuwait and Qatar. “The first and last affected country is Iraq only,” he said.
Fadel Abu Raghef, an Iraqi analyst and security expert, told The Media Line, however, that the withdrawal would not affect the country, as the US presence did not consist of ground forces, and there was “no trace of American armies on Iraqi soil.”
“Their withdrawal began two years ago, from 30,000 soldiers to fewer than 3,000” today, Abu Raghef said.
The American presence would now be limited to advisers, trainers and photographers, for the purposes of equipping and arming Iraqi troops, he clarified.
The security situation was already being handled by Iraqi forces through the Defense and Interior ministries, the Counter-Terrorism Service and the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, he added.
“Therefore, I do not think that they will leave any kind of vacuum, as long as there is air, army and equipment support for the Iraqi authorities,” Abu Raghef said.
Kazemi revealed that “batches” of US forces were withdrawn from Iraq already during recent months.
He declared 2021 “The Year of Iraqi Achievement” during his remarks commemorating the centennial of the Iraqi Army.
“We will not allow the Iraqi national decision to be hijacked by any party…, and we will not submit to having political and electoral decisions determined by the highest bidder,” the prime minister added.