Could Washington Re-Occupy Iraq Again?

Published March 17th, 2020 - 09:57 GMT
Damaged military vehicles in the aftermath of US military air strikes targeting pro-Iranian militias in Iraq (AFP File Photo)
Damaged military vehicles in the aftermath of US military air strikes targeting pro-Iranian militias in Iraq (AFP File Photo)
The US strikes that target Shia militias actually target a branch of the Iraqi Army.

Whichever way you cut it, the United States and Iraq are now engaging each other in military hostilities again, something that has not been open on this scale since the Saddam Hussein dictatorship was toppled by an illegal US-led invasion in 2003. 

We have now reached a stage in the post-occupation period where units of the Iraqi military are actively engaged in hostilities against American and allied troops, and the US military is retaliating using deadly force. 

The mirage of a “friendly” post-Saddam Iraq has finally been shattered in a wave of rocket attacks and air strikes, signalling in dramatic fashion that the American experiment to forcibly transplant a false democracy into Iraq has failed completely, utterly, and finally.

Shia militias as Iraqi soldiers and US-hunted terrorists

Two Americans and one British soldier lost their lives last Wednesday after their base at Camp Taji just north of the capital Baghdad came under a barrage of rocket fire

The US was quick to point the finger at Khataib Hezbollah (KH), a Shia militia group with strong ties to Iran and who recently lost their commander, Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, in an American drone strike that also took out Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, in early January.

The latest attacks were quickly followed by airstrikes against Iraqi Shia militia targets operating in Syria, killing 26 and wounding dozens more. 

While the US-led coalition denied that it had conducted the airstrikes, this is unlikely to be true or it is otherwise only tangentially true as the strikes smacked of retaliation for the deaths of allied troops and the US could have asked Israel to conduct the strikes on their behalf. 

In any event, the US-led coalition did take responsibility for further strikes against KH targets, destroying five weapons storage facilities and killing six, including a civilian

This led to grumblings of vengeance from KH and allied factions and, sure enough, the second barrage of rockets struck Camp Taji.

The interesting thing here, however, is that KH is part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a branch of the Iraqi armed forces with a share of the Iraqi defence budget, its own bases, rank structure, and even insignia. 

The PMF was formed after a fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in 2014 to fight against Daesh militants after the Iraqi army had turned tail and fled Mosul. 

Since then, the PMF have benefited from US-led coalition air support in the fight against Daesh and were formally recognised by the Shia Islamist-dominated Iraqi parliament in 2016 as a branch of the armed forces despite their litany of sectarian war crimes perpetrated against the Sunni Arabs.

For all intents and purposes, and legally speaking, any member of the PMF is therefore also a soldier in the Iraqi military and part of the funding that sustains these soldiers comes from defence aid from Washington

It is, therefore, no wonder the Iraqi Joint Operations Command denounced the American retaliatory strikes and encouraged the US-led coalition to leave Iraq, despite the fact the US has bankrolled the Iraqi military since 2003 and is technically providing material support to organisations like KH that it has blacklisted as terrorist organisations.

Violence but not outright war

We cannot call what is happening now between the US and Iraqi militaries war. The political powers that control these armed forces have not declared war on one another but are in fact considered allies. 

So why are their military forces now targeting and killing one another? Quite simply, the answer is that Iraq is a failed state that has no monopoly on violence within its own borders and no effective chain of command as the prime minister as commander-in-chief can have his orders rescinded or overruled by clerics and IRGC-sponsored radicals who serve the agenda of a foreign power.

This means that the US did not just strike back at Iraqi soldiers, but those who also openly act as proxies to Iran and serve at Tehran’s behest. 

The proof of this is in the fact that Iran, a country that likes to pretend that its own occupation and subjugation of Iraq is welcomed by Iraqis, has condemned the US retaliation and said that the recent escalations are as a result of the continued unwelcome presence of American soldiers on Iraqi soil.

The Iranians conveniently fail to mention the fact that normal Iraqis have been protesting Iran’s undue interference with Iraq’s sovereignty and political affairs since October last year, and Iran’s response to that has been to unleash its proxies against them, killing hundreds for simply wanting to have their own country. 

This then raises a conundrum for American policymakers. On the one hand, they have an alliance with the Iraqi government and helped them in their fightback against Daesh. 

On the other, that alliance has been polluted by Iranian infiltration of Iraq’s entire political and security structures, meaning that any assistance Washington renders to Baghdad will invariably find those in Tehran reaping the benefits.

As such, the United States may start to consider making defence aid contingent on Baghdad weeding out pro-Iran elements within the Iraqi armed forces. 

However, that will never happen as the infiltration of Iranian proxies has been so pervasive as to render such an option a useless waste of resources on inevitable failure. Instead, the US needs to cease all military and security aid to Iraq immediately, otherwise, it is simply bankrolling its own enemies. 

The knowledge that the Iraq the Americans “built” is still not their friend must really chafe in Washington, but they only have themselves to blame for their disingenuous efforts at promoting democracy which ultimately empowered corruption, nepotism, and outright authoritarianism. This is therefore undoubtedly a disaster of America’s own making, and it now must shoulder that burden in the knowledge that this could have all been avoided if Iraq was sovereign and not being constantly undermined by both the US and Iran.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is an award-winning academic and writer, with a specialism in Middle Eastern strategic and security affairs.

This article has been adapted from its original source. 

 


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