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Shafaq News/ The American magazine “Foreign Affairs” confirmed that Washington, which has inflicted physical devastation on Iraq over the past three decades, must answer a question related to the nature of the relationship that it must establish with Baghdad, in a way that responds to its American “moral and national interest” obligations, and in a way that turns Iraq from An allied country to an actual friendly country.
In a report entitled “America is able to help Iraq despite Iranian influence,” which was translated by Shafaq News Agency, the American magazine said that Iraq was “a friend, enemy, and adversary of the United States, according to the administration in Washington.”
He pointed out that after two years of relative stability in Iraq and the formation of a new administration in the United States, the two countries may finally be on the path toward establishing sustainable relations.
In this context, he pointed out that representatives of the two countries met in Washington early last August, to begin negotiations on a long-term defense partnership.
Therefore, the magazine considered that this dialogue, and any potential agreement, must answer the perennial question: What type of relationship should the United States seek with Iraq?
The report reviewed the transformations in the American dealings with Iraq, as during the era of Saddam Hussein, it was a rogue state subject to sanctions, and an enemy intending to use weapons of mass destruction. Then, after the invasion in 2003, Iraq became an experiment in state building, a lukewarm partner in the war on terrorism, and a puppet. Under Iran's control, but now President Joe Biden's administration intends to undertake the task of overcoming this changing legacy and normalizing the relationship once and for all.
After the report pointed out the nature of the “training and advisory” role of the American forces stationed in Iraq (2,000 soldiers), it pointed out that one of the factors that complicates progress in American-Iraqi relations is the spread of militias that follow the prime minister but operate outside the official command structure of the Iraqi army, and in some cases Cases, and it seems that Iran is directing them.
While the report said that there may be a temptation in Washington to link future cooperation with Baghdad to eliminating Iranian influence, it considered that “such an approach would be a mistake, and Iraq does not need to further undermine its already wavering sovereignty through misleading American intervention.”
The report explained that what Iraq needs is to have the ability alone to secure the needs of its citizens and curb the militias. Therefore, helping Iraq to enhance the capabilities of its country is the best way to move towards a more normal and friendly US-Iraqi relationship and to serve the interests of the Iraqi people, without compromising the security of the United States.
Break the cycle
The report reviewed basic milestones in the nature of Washington’s relations with Iraq, describing them in general as “a story of recurring conflict,” since Iraq was the focus of attention of the United States during the war with Iran in the 1980s and the “Iran-Contra” issue and then the opening of the Ronald Reagan administration to Baghdad. Then the post-war fears of Iraq accumulating weapons of mass destruction and the invasion of Kuwait, which turned Baghdad from a trading partner into a strategic opponent, then the liberation of Kuwait and the attempt to create a revolution against Saddam Hussein, but it will not succeed. Then in the 1990s, the United States launched an economic war on Iraqi civilians by Imposing sanctions, then overthrowing Saddam Hussein, after a war that led to the outbreak of a civil war that killed tens of thousands.
The report also pointed out that the administration of George W. Bush tried to support the establishment of a new Iraqi leadership whose goals were compatible with those of Washington, and it had only a few options, so it settled on Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister, but in light of the refusal of many Sunnis to deal with al-Maliki, this led to To a continuing state of political instability.
He continued that when the Barack Obama administration withdrew US forces in 2011, both Iran and extremist Sunni rebels took advantage of Iraq's unstable situation, and Iran achieved a breakthrough through Shiite militias, while the affected Sunnis joined Syrian ISIS militants to occupy large areas of Iraqi territory.
The report pointed out that Washington's initial evasion in the face of this ISIS attack left the door open for the Shiite militias in Iraq to confront this new threat and strengthen their position in this process.
Under the administration of President Donald Trump, relations remained fraught, as US officials viewed Iraq as an “Iranian puppet” and treated the country with suspicion and contempt, including the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and a high-ranking commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, outside Baghdad airport.
As for the Biden era, Washington has so far focused on economic cooperation while downplaying the importance of military relations between the United States and Iraq, a change that has become possible thanks to the gradual dissolution of ISIS in recent years.
In this context, the report pointed to the recent joint statement issued by the Iraqi-American meeting in Washington, where the Biden administration is turning its attention to the military component of the relationship with the Iraqis, and that the two parties can lay the foundations for a final withdrawal of American forces, while it is currently expected that military assistance will continue. America to Iraq.
The report called for determining a focus for these efforts, rather than making open-ended commitments to the sprawling Iraqi army. Among the suggestions, the report called for the following:
Washington's focus on the most effective elements of the military, such as the Counterterrorism Service and the Federal Intelligence and Investigations Agency.
US military trainers should prioritize mission planning, encourage coordination and information sharing between various Iraqi units, and increase the ability of those units to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence.
Iraqi forces develop their ability to conduct limited operations between their joint arms, which combine infantry maneuvers, air support, and artillery fire.
Withdrawal of American forces in light of progress towards establishing normal diplomatic relations.
Replacing the current Operation Inherent Resolve with a narrower mission, which could be through a small group of advisors working within the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq in Baghdad, which is responsible for managing security assistance and facilitating cooperation between Washington and Baghdad.
However, the report indicated that the “Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq” is affiliated with the Pentagon, and submits its reports to the American diplomatic mission in Iraq, and therefore its location between the Pentagon and the State Department imposes some restrictions on the support it can provide to the partner Iraqi army, and for this reason it can complement the advisors. Those subject to its authority have a second, more flexible mission managed by US Central Command.
He explained that this limited deployment of highly trained special operations soldiers in the field of counter-terrorism can assist in training and intelligence operations, and this reduced military presence can ensure a smooth path towards normalization of relations.
The report considered that the non-military relationship represents a final and realistic goal, indicating in any case that the American military presence has been declining for years, and that in the absence of a war with Iran or the return of ISIS, this decline trend will continue.
He continued that there is no treaty obligating the United States to defend Iraq, while the Iraqi government will not want to seek any commitment in this area by identifying another country as a threat that Iraq needs to defend, for fear of antagonizing its neighbors and creating the same security crisis that Iraq wants to avoid it.
Instead, the report said, the two sides envision a simple form of cooperation that limits focus on the possibility of US combat operations inside Iraq.
He added, "Decision makers in the United States still need a plan to withdraw the remaining American forces in Iraq, which number about 2,000 soldiers, over the next few years. However, the current focus on economic issues, coordination, and relatively modest military support indicates the desired future for Iraq as a friend and not... As an ally of the United States.
The militia problem
Regarding the presence of Iran-linked militias, the report said that skeptics of US cooperation with the Iraqi government often point to its tolerance of these arrangements as evidence of Iraqi disloyalty, and they consider the Biden administration’s willingness to live with this situation, rather than militarily repressing or making aid... America is conditional on besieging the militias, evidence of American weakness.
He pointed out that according to the same point of view, Iraq is at best a contradictory partner and at worst an implicit enemy, and that, given the extent of Iranian influence, Iraq, according to the same logic, cannot act as an independent regional partner.
After the report said that "competing loyalties within the Iraqi army undoubtedly represent a problem, it saw that hybrid armies have also become a tangible reality in the 21st century."
He continued that sociologist Max Weber's definition of the state as "the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a specific territory" may no longer be applicable currently, noting in this context that national governments are increasingly contracting the use of force with non-state actors, as happened in The Syrian civil war and the Russian war with Ukraine, but he considered that "the Iraqi militias have no interest in removing the state that feeds them, nor the ability to do so."
The report stated that the Iraqi militias had emerged under the chaotic conditions created by the American occupation, explaining that when the 2003 invasion eliminated the Iraqi state’s ability to maintain order and provide services, it was the warlords who secured this deficit, using ethnic and religious identity. To create their legitimacy and authority, and that external powers took advantage of this situation, as Iran provided advice and direct resources to Shiite militias, while the United States supported Sunni militias such as Al-Sahwa.
The report continued that no actor had the strength or incentive to dissolve these groups or force them to join a non-sectarian national army, while the rise of ISIS in 2014 provided the Shiite militias with a golden opportunity to confront the organization that had become at the gates of Baghdad.
In addition, the report said that when Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr sparked a violent political crisis in Iraq after the 2022 elections, it was the Popular Mobilization Forces, not the Iraqi army, that succeeded in confronting his supporters.
The militias also sometimes try to intervene to address shortcomings on the part of the state, and absorb unemployed youth with meager salaries, which keeps the weak economy alive and keeps these recruits out of trouble.
While the report said that the American view is that the Iranian-backed militias pose a threat, such as Harakat al-Nujaba and Kataib Hezbollah, and that the militias benefited from the cover of the Iraqi government, which itself allowed the American military presence on Iraqi soil, which is a disturbing situation for Washington and a potential source of To escalate between the United States and Iran as long as American forces remain in Iraq.
However, Foreign Affairs said, "The solution to this dilemma does not lie in fighting the militias directly or forcing the Iraqi government to restrain them, as doing so will not undermine the sovereignty of the Iraqi state, which has been weakened by the presence of the Iranian-backed militias."
Instead, the report suggests Washington should take “the sensible approach of strengthening the capacity of the Iraqi state through the slow, less coercive, and more sustainable means of traditional diplomacy, targeted aid, and economic cooperation.”
The report pointed out that the militias are here to stay, and that “challenging them directly will only enhance their importance and influence, giving the Iranian government victory,” adding that the best thing is to work with the government in Baghdad, and that the political factions and militias are largely accepting of the Iranian government’s position. Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani supports the continued presence of American military personnel to help develop the Iraqi armed forces.
What does America owe Iraq?
The report considered that the evil represented by the pro-Iranian militias should not prevent Washington from providing support to Baghdad, noting that American diplomacy has already turned its attention to other serious problems that Iraq is suffering from, explaining that the general approach of the United States is to overcome security concerns and give priority to economic issues. And urgent humanitarian issues, such as electrical service, the deterioration of agriculture due to drought, and unemployment rates (17% in general, 28% for women and 36% for youth).
The report found that the flashy shopping centers and thriving markets in Baghdad, the renewed riverfront in Mosul, and the economic recovery in Anbar Governorate, are all elements that make attractive images accompany stories about Iraq’s recovery in the post-ISIS period, but the reality is that the majority of Iraqis are struggling to meet... Their expenses.
He continued, "The government's failure to provide for the needs of a rapidly growing population represents a greater threat to Iraq's future than terrorism, and that the government's continued shortcomings will only fuel the terrorist threat."
The report concluded by saying that Washington "bears a moral responsibility to help the Iraqis correct this situation, as for 30 years, it has inflicted severe damage on Iraq."
"A realpolitik approach would avoid the argument based on moral imperative, but in this case, morality and the national interest are on the same side," he added.
He continued, saying, "Helping Iraq recover from decades of conflict, rather than blaming it for militias that are themselves a product of the American invasion, would make the United States' position regionally more secure and enhance its reputation for reliability."
He pointed out that the United States "has the tools it needs to help Iraq, and it must replace the presence of its soldiers, by facilitating investment, providing technical assistance for efforts to adapt to climate change, and enabling the Iraqi security services to work independently."
However, the report said that Washington should be clear about what it can and cannot achieve in Iraq, adding that American interests will sometimes conflict with Baghdad, and American diplomats and military officials will not always be able to monitor or influence their Iraqi partners, unless Washington and Baghdad must work together toward a future in which the Iraqi state does not depend on American forces to ensure its security and cohesion.
He concluded by saying that "the most pressing challenges facing Iraq and the United States are not the kind that can be solved by deploying 2,000 American soldiers indefinitely."
Translated by: Shafaq News Agency
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