The Biden administration’s relationship with the Iraqi government is under strain due to escalating conflicts with Iranian-backed militia groups in the Middle East.
Recent events have reignited debates in Iraq about the presence of American troops, as the country again faces the specter of becoming a warzone.
Iran’s strike in Iraq amidst tensions over American military presence
This week, Iran executed a strike in Iraq, claiming to target an Israeli spy base.
This action further complicates the situation, as Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani advocates for the withdrawal of approximately 2,500 American soldiers from Iraq.
The U.S., however, has expressed no intention of leaving. “That would be a massive victory for the Iranians,” noted Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
This move, he suggests, is part of Iran’s broader strategy to diminish U.S. influence in the region.
Rising calls for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq following fatal Baghdad strike
Following a deadly U.S. strike in Baghdad, which resulted in the death of an Iranian-backed militia leader, public pressure has mounted in Iraq for the expulsion of American forces.
Al-Sudani, responding to these events, stated, “Let’s agree on a time frame that is, honestly, quick, so that they don’t remain long and the attacks keep happening.”
The Iraqi parliament speaker also echoed this sentiment, advocating for the U.S. withdrawal, as the government reportedly surveys public opinion on the matter.
Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Iraq, emphasizing ongoing communication and collaboration.
Iraq’s delicate balancing act: Navigating tensions between Iran and U.S.
“We view Iraq as a valued and important partner,” Ryder said, indicating no plans for a U.S. departure.
Meanwhile, the recent Iranian strike in Erbil, which killed at least four people, has been condemned by al-Sudani, who has called for an investigation and recalled an Iraqi ambassador from Tehran.
Iraq finds itself in a precarious position, caught between Iran and its proxies and the U.S., reminiscent of past conflicts with terrorist groups like ISIS.
President Abdul Latif Rashid recently celebrated a new era of peace, urging the media to focus on stability rather than portraying Iraq as a war zone.
Iraq’s U.S. critique, regional tensions, and counter-terrorism concerns
Al-Sudani has criticized U.S. soldiers’ actions, aligning with widespread sympathy among Iraqis for Palestinians in Gaza.
Gregory Gause, a Middle East expert, notes that more Iraqis view the U.S. negatively compared to Iran, partly due to the Gaza conflict.
However, al-Sudani might be reluctant to expel U.S. forces, fearing unchecked Iranian influence. Internal reports suggest Iraqi officials privately desire to maintain a U.S. presence for balance.
Uncertain Future and Counter-Terrorism Concerns
The potential impact of a U.S. withdrawal on counter-terrorism efforts remains unclear.
Iraq’s security challenges and power dynamics amid U.S. military presence
While ISIS is mainly subdued, their threat persists. Al-Sudani asserts that Iraq is now capable of handling ISIS without U.S. ground forces.
However, a U.S. exit could create a power vacuum, potentially exploited by Iran, Russia, and other adversaries.
Al-Sudani, closely working with Iranian-backed groups, faces a complex situation. The U.S. strike that killed Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, leader of an Iranian-backed militia, heightened tensions.
Iraq’s quest for internal peace amidst regional power struggles
Ruba Ali Al-Hassani, an Iraqi researcher, suggests that Iraq’s primary concern is internal peace rather than becoming a battleground for U.S.-Iran proxy wars.
The current conflicts in the Middle East are testing U.S.-Iraq relations, with the potential withdrawal of American troops being a focal point of debate.
Iraq’s balancing act between U.S. and Iranian interests, along with its internal stability, remains a critical issue in the region.