At a White House meeting last Monday (July 26, 2021) with Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, US President Joe Biden declared that the US mission in Iraq would conclude by the end of 2021. Biden stated, “We are not going to be, by the end of the year, in combat mission.” He added, “US military forces would be available to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS.”
Biden’s announcement is thrilling for the Iranian mullahs, and the pro-Iranian, and anti-American Shiite factions in Iraq. Iran’s strategy has been focused on nullifying US combat presence in the region, and in particular, in neighboring Iraq. The Pro-Iranian factions, and militias who have attacked US forces with rockets, have demanded the US departure from Iraq following the drone attack that killed the Iranian commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Maj. General Qassim Suleimani, in January, 2020. The Iraqi Parliament, dominated by radical pro-Iranian Shiites, has called upon the Iraqi government to expel the US forces from Iraq.
President Biden, while trying to end the long lasting (20 years) US involvement in Afghanistan, is in fact applying the same to Iraq, in the name of ending “forever wars.” In the process of dismantling the US involvement in the region, he is surrendering to Tehran’s wishes, and to the Iraqi pro-Iranian factions. At the same time however, the end of the US combat mission will substantially weaken the pro-American allies, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, fighting ISIS.
The head of the Peshmerga Affairs Commission in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Parliament, Rifnik Herori, reacting to Biden’s declaration of withdrawing US combat troops from Iraq, pointed out that it will create a huge gap for the (Iraqi) army and for the Peshmerga forces in the fight against terrorism, and that it would create for the US “a new Afghanistan.” Herori said, “The American and Iraqi sides need to think seriously about the complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. It is because Iraq and the Kurdistan region need US help, especially in providing air cover, and logistical support. On the other hand, the threat of terrorist groups against Iraq remains strong.”
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein has spoken of the need for US troops to remain in Iraq. Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassim al-Araji has called for an immediate end to the US presence in Iraq. The pro-Iranian groups are under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Units, which models itself after the Iranian IRGC. The groups have over 100,000 armed fighters that include gangs, and militias such as Badr, Asaib Ahl al-Hak, Harakat Nujaba, and Kataib Hezbollah (designated by the US as a terrorist organization).
Kurdish Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani commanded the Kurdish forces in the bloody battles of 2015 and 2016, to regain Kurdish territory lost to the Islamic State (or ISIS). Gen. Barzani is a member of the leading Iraqi Kurdish Barzani clan, and a nephew of the former President of the KRG, Masoud Barzani. He is also the managing director of Korek Telecom, a mobile phone operator in Iraq with seven million subscribers. The company’s worth is estimated to be about $2 billion. Barzani believes that the US and Coalition forces should increase their presence in Iraq rather than withdrawing them. He maintains that ISIS is still a threat to the region as a whole.
In an interview with Arab News (July 27, 2021), Barzani pointed out that, “Daesh (the Arabic term for ISIS) is starting to reorganize themselves again; the militants are very active, and almost every day they launch terror attacks against civilian targets, military or security services.” Barzani continued, “I am responsible for Sector Six, south and southwest of Irbil (capital of the KRG). We have a permanent ISIS presence in these mountains. Even with all these operations, cooperating with the Coalition and with the Iraqi army, the (ISIS) fighters are still there. ISIS is not defeated like al-Qaeda. ISIS is there still, and without the support of the Coalition, ISIS will become stronger and stronger.”
In fact, Gen. Barzani would like the Biden administration to send more ground troops to Iraq. He believes that the situation in Iraq is different from Afghanistan. “I think it is different. You cannot compare Afghanistan and Iraq. The stability of Iraq is the stability of the Middle East, and of course, everyone knows that all of the world is looking for stability in the Middle East for many reasons, especially economic reasons.”
Barzani is asking the US and Coalition members to provide the Peshmerga with defensive military technology. Regretfully, US military aid goes largely to Baghdad, and not the Kurdish Peshmerga. The Peshmerga, while it is supposed to get budgetary assistance from the Iraqi government to combat ISIS, is not getting it according to Barzani. The Iraqi Parliament passed the 2021 budget that formalizes the agreement between Baghdad and the KRG. Irbil will transfer 250,000 b/d of oil revenue to the Baghdad central government, and in return it will receive 12.67% share of Iraq’s federal budget, amounting to around $11billion. The KRG however, is yet to receive its share. It is ironic that the US is providing military assistance to the Baghdad government, which is dominated by Iranian-backed parties and militias. Conversely, the pro-American Kurds, who have made the primary sacrifices in bloody fighting against ISIS, have been essentially left behind.
Barzani is asking the Biden administration for help, “The most important thing they (the US and its Coalition allies) have to do is to just give us, as Peshmerga, some new technology. For example, we don’t have any drones. Even technologies like night-vision or thermal cameras and defensive weapons – we still don’t have them. All the end users for such equipment are meant to be from Baghdad, and unfortunately, not from here (Irbil, KRG).”
The Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which holds significant clout in Baghdad, on June 26, 2021, used an explosive-laden drone to attack the US base near Irbil, but instead, the drone hit a Kurdish village causing major damage. The same Iranian proxy has threatened the US with more sophisticated weapons. Significantly, the PMF was incorporated into the Iraqi security forces three years ago.
About 2,500 US troops are currently in Iraq. They are part of a global coalition supporting local security forces, and in particular, the Kurdish Peshmerga, in the fight against the Jihadist ISIS terrorists. It is imperative that the US maintain its presence in Iraq, not only to provide aerial support for the ground forces fighting ISIS, but also as a logistical base against Iranian nefarious machinations in the region. The party most happy with Biden’s decision to “end the US mission in Iraq,” are the Iranian mullahs and their Iraqi proxies.
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Photo credit: PFC. Laura M. Buchta.