International Engagement in Iraq Is Tied to Military Presence
The U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State is the strongest alliance Iraq has ever enjoyed, but much of the resultant international attention and support could dissipate if forces are removed.
Iraq’s parliament may soon debate draft legislation concerning the regulation of foreign military forces within its territory. This is an Iraqi affair, fully within Baghdad’s sovereign rights, so the United States and other coalition members must respect its views, whatever they are. What is of paramount importance is that Iraq clearly understands how its words and actions may affect the coalition, and what non-military benefits it may lose alongside the collapse of its military partnerships.
AN ECONOMIC, POLITICAL, AND MILITARY COALITION
Iraq had never previously enjoyed the level of international attention and support it has received since the Islamic State’s June 2014 breakout, with a wide array of contributions from the following:
The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The U.S.-convened coalition is a seventy-nine-member bloc that includes Iraq, seventy-three foreign nations, and five international organizations: the Arab League, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), the European Union, Interpol, and NATO. A majority (twelve) of the G-20 states are members: Australia, Britain, Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States. Geographically speaking, the coalition boasts thirty-eight states from Europe, thirteen from Africa, ten from Asia, and nine Arab-majority countries (including Saudi Arabia and all the other Gulf states).
CJTF-OIR. Iraq’s primary military partner in the war against the Islamic State has been the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, a U.S.-led group that includes fifteen other countries: Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey.
In short, Iraq has seen the most powerful nations, militaries, and economies in the world mobilize to ensure its survival for nearly five years now. On the back of this effort, with powerful support from the coalition’s G-20 members, Iraq secured a $5.38 billion stand-by arrangement from the IMF. It also saw $30 billion pledged at a February 2018 reconstruction conference organized in Kuwait by coalition members.
WHO CARES—AND CARED—ABOUT IRAQ?
This unprecedented focus on Iraq’s survival, stability, and prosperity was not due to some widespread revelation that Iraq is an indispensable partner. Almost none of today’s CJTF partners cared about Iraq at all between 2003 and 2011, when the country faced an equally terrible ordeal. Rather, the steep increase in nonmilitary engagement was driven by the deployment of ground forces from a range of European and NATO states under CJTF-OIR, each of whom still has significant skin in the game precisely because of their boots on the ground.
Indeed, sending servicemen and women abroad is a powerful symbol for industrial powerhouses such as Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Before CJTF, hardly any of the world’s biggest economies demonstrated significant concern about Iraq. After CJTF was established, the majority of G-20 and European economies firmly committed to the country’s survival. This is not a coincidence.
Since 2014, coalition members have expended a great deal of effort to train twenty-eight Iraqi brigades, launch thousands of airstrikes, and contribute billions of dollars in security assistance, suffering sixty-nine fatalities and many more casualties in the process. If further proof were needed of the link between their military and nonmilitary commitment, however, one need only compare the number of visits to Iraq conducted by presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, and defense ministers before and after CJTF deployed. For Western leaders, a visit to Iraq represents a major investment of time, effort, expense, and security planning, so such trips are a powerful sign of commitment to the country’s future. The graph below traces the correlation between international interest in Iraq and the CJTF presence.
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