GP Insights # 214, 11 January 2020
6 January 2020, in the context of the killing of the Iranian General, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling for the government to expel foreign troops from their country. The resolution read, “The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.”
The Trump administration, however, rejected the above resolution. Instead, Trump threatened Iran with sanctions and a bill for billions if they would continue to force the US on the issue and stated, “Washington and Bhagdad should not discuss troop withdrawal.”
The killing of Gen Soleimani has enraged the Shiite militias and their supporters in Iraq. The Kurdish and Sunni lawmakers have boycotted the parliamentary session that passed the resolution.
What is the background?
Since 2019, Iraq has been opposing the presence of the US forces on their soil. This sentiment has grown after the success in operations against the ISIS. The trigger point was the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad on 29 December 2019.
The US has been sensitive about attacks on its Embassy historically since 1979. The December 2019 attacks on the US embassy has enraged the American response.
During the last few years, the US goalposts in Iraq have also been shifting. It started with regime change in Iraq. After overthrowing Saddam, the US stationed its troops to ensure stability in the region. The threat of the ISIS further expanded the American objectives in Iraq.
During recent months, the US was more concerned about the expanding Iranian footprints in the Middle East and saw Gen Soleimani as a strong actor. For the US, Iraq should be a geo-politically a critical region to address the latest threat – expansion of Iranian influence in the region.
What does it mean?
The resolution indicates that Iraq doubts the future of the allied mission that has been in the region to fight ISIS. However, there are questions if the caretaker Prime Minister can take such a call and ask for the removal of foreign troops.
Iraq also does not want to take sides between the US and Iran.
The US response to the recent resolution of Iraq should undermine its long term interests, as the harsh response from Trump would suggest. Though the Kurdish and Sunni population of Iraq may remain supportive of the US presence, the majority within Iraq seems to influenced by anti-American sentiment. Trump should be more worried about how Iraq looks at the US than responses from Iran.