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Challenges of US Military Presence in Iraq

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ali Akbar Asadi, PhD Candidate
Department of International Relations, University of Allameh Tabatabaei

The United States totally occupied Iraq in a military operation in 2003 and its military forces have been stationed in the country since then. An agreement, however, has been signed with the new Iraqi government in 2008 according to which Washington should pull its entire troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011. The American forces withdrew from most Iraqi cities in 2009 and large groups of them left the country in 2010. The remaining forces are supposed to be simply engaged in training and logistic missions. Thus, the military mission of the American troops in Iraq is practically over. US officials, however, have been trying to keep, at least, some troops in Iraq even after 2011. They have requested the Iraqi leaders to extend presence of some American military units in the country on grounds of continued threats and the possibility of further instability and insecurity in Iraq. Since the US request was faced with serious stumbling blocks, new grounds were sought to prolong presence of US troops in Iraq, for example, as trainers of Iraq’s military. Thus, an important question is what real challenges and barriers exist to US military presence in Iraq?

There are serious challenges to continued military presence of the United States in Iraq on ground of training missions after the end of 2011, which have led to differences between the American and Iraqi officials. The foremost obstacle pertains to people’s opposition to that presence. US military presence has incurred various human, social, economic, and political costs on Iraq since 2003. Accordingly, people and religious leaders of Iraq described withdrawal of the American military forces as an important step in improving the country’s conditions and restoration of independence and sovereignty. In addition to direct effects, the religious leaders have been putting indirect pressure on Iraq’s political leaders to avoid of extending the US military presence or giving any concessions to Washington.

The second obstacle pertains to the opposition of most Iraqi political groups and leaders to the extension of the US military presence in the country. Kurds, of course, are more willing than other political groups to keep US troops in the country though their leaders have made seldom direct references to this fact. Other ethnic groups and Iraqi political leaders have not openly supported continuation of the US military presence. The political current close to the young Iraqi cleric, Muqtada Sadr, has even voiced its outright opposition to that presence. The result of many sessions held by various Iraqi groups about continued presence of the American forces in Iraq has been a decision for not extending that presence. Of course, Iraqi leaders have agreed to keep a limited number of the American military trainers in the country. They, however, have made it clear that the military trainers will not enjoy judicial immunity rights. The strong emphasis put by the American officials on the necessity of extending judicial immunity to the American military trainers and presence of several thousand trainers in Iraq, has turned this issue into a major challenge for both the Iraqi and American officials.

The third factor which makes possible presence of US troops in Iraq more difficult after the end of 2011 is recent regional developments in the Arab world which have left their mark on the attitudes of Iraqi people and authorities. Developments in the Arab world have their roots in such concepts as people’s role in governance and political independence of countries and prove that the region has been ushered into a new phase of its political and social life. Although Iraq was introduced as a model for democracy in the Arab world following political developments in 2003, most recent popular uprisings in the Arab world enjoy more prominent indigenous characteristics. Therefore, they provide new democratic models for the whole Arab world without being marred by military intervention of a foreign player like the United States. They have even touched the public opinion and leaders’ political approaches in Iraq. As a result, accepting continued presence of the US military forces in Iraq under the new circumstances has been considered against political and social trends in the region. Therefore, Iraqi leaders and people alike are not willing to concede to that presence.

Although a set of domestic and regional factors, the most important of which were enumerated above, pose serious challenges to continuation of the US military presence in Iraq, American authorities still emphasize that their military trainers should enjoy judicial immunity and suitable facilities and even retain independent bases in Iraq. The US officials mention the necessity to protect their embassy in Iraq as well as their political mission, continued instability in Iraq, and possible intervention by such regional countries as Iran as grounds to justify their demands. Meanwhile, it is possible for Iraqi security forces to protect US embassy and diplomats in Iraq just as they do for other diplomatic missions. On the other hand, such regional players as the Islamic Republic of Iran have vast cultural and historical relations with Iraq. Relations between Tehran and Baghdad have been constantly on the rise, despite negative attitudes of most regional countries toward those relations. The stability and security of Iran is also closely intertwined with that of Iraq and Tehran sees security of Iraq as its own. It follows that the emphasis put by the United States on continued military presence in Iraq, even in the form of military trainers, pursues no other goal but to maintain Washington’s political, economic, and security influence in that country after the end of 2011.

More By Ali Akbar Asadi:

*Crisis in (P)GCC: Why Bahrain?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Crisis_in_P_GCC_Why_Bahrain_.htm

*Bahrain Developments: Saudi Arabia’s Considerations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Bahrain_Developments_Saudi_Arabia’s_Considerations.htm

*Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sectarian Disputes: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran_Saudi_Arabia_and_Sectarian_Disputes.htm

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