The end of the US-led Coalition in Iraq?

Nermeen Al-Mufti , Tuesday 9 Jan 2024

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa Al-Sudani announced the beginning of moves to evict US-led International Coalition forces from Iraq last week, but no progress has yet been made on the ground, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad



Many Iraqis received a SMS question through their mobile phones this week that read “Dear citizen, are you in favour of the continuation of the International Coalition’s mission in Iraq” followed by a link that could be used to answer the question.

Although the SMS shows its sender as the Iraqi Centre for Opinion Measurement, the link to participate in the poll leads to Url, the Iraqi government platform for electronic services.

Local viewpoints vary regarding the message. Some see it as merely the government trying to satisfy the “armed factions” in Iraq, while others see it as “insignificant” and not likely to generate any results on the ground.

However, there are also those who believe that the government cares about public opinion and will not take such crucial decisions alone.

“It has never happened before that any government in Iraq has asked the people their opinion on an important security issue such as the withdrawal of foreign forces,” Mazen Hassan, a teacher, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“I do want the coalition forces to withdraw from Iraq because their presence has become a problem that might lead to Iraq becoming an arena for settling accounts in which the Iraqis themselves have no interest,” an Iraqi political analyst told the Weekly on condition of anonymity.

He added that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa Al-Sudani had resorted to the measure in order to relieve the pressure on it from its allies in the Coordinating Framework that chose Al-Sudani as prime minister, as well as from among its allies that are persistently demanding the withdrawal of the US-led Coalition.

Last Friday, Al-Sudani’s Office announced the beginning of moves to evict US forces from Iraq following a US drone strike in Baghdad that was condemned by the government.

This was not the first US strike against “armed factions” based inside Iraq. Working under the umbrella of the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” the factions announced last October that they had entered into a war against Israel and considered US military bases in Iraq as their targets.

The factions have carried out repeated bombing operations on some of the bases in Iraq used by the International Coalition forces whose number is 2,500 troops with other forces based in Syria.

The US Pentagon said the strike last Thursday had killed a militia leader responsible for recent attacks on US personnel in Iraq.

While the Iraqi government has said that the US strikes violate national sovereignty, the last US strike inside Baghdad targeted the Al-Nujabaa Movement, one of the Iraqi armed factions, which announced in a statement that the Assistant Commander of the Baghdad Belt Operations in the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces, Mushtaq Talib Al-Saidi (Abu Taqwa), had been killed by the “treacherous” US bombing of its logistical support headquarters in Baghdad.

Al-Sudani’s office said in a statement that a committee would be formed to “make arrangements to end the presence of the International Coalition forces in Iraq.”

Al-Sudani himself was quoted by Reuters as saying that “we stress our firm position in ending the existence of the International Coalition after the justifications for its existence have ended.”

“I expect that Al-Sudani’s reaction to the assassination of Abu Taqwa will be to absorb the anger of the factions,” analyst Abdel-Ameer Al-Majar told the Weekly, adding that Al-Sudani’s intention to form a committee to discuss the issue of the withdrawal with the Americans, even if it is in fact formed, would be procrastination.

Al-Majar said that Iraqi military experts have said that it is difficult for Iraqi forces to operate US F-16 fighters, adding that “the Americans cannot leave Iraq because of the air cover they provide as long as the Gaza war continues.”

 He believes that Al-Sudani’s committee will continue its deliberations until the Gaza war ends. Then the “Palestinian issue may turn into a political one to be solved according to international opinion,” he said, adding that should this happen there will no longer be a need for an axis of confrontation and dealing with the Palestine issue will no longer be a matter of occupation or resistance.

“Iraq will then be able to resolve the matter [of the US Coalition] when there is no need for factions, especially since the bloodshed in Gaza is embarrassing for the US, Europe, and the Arabs.”

While the outcome of a possible US withdrawal and its impact on Iraq politically, economically, and diplomatically is being discussed in Baghdad, the Pentagon said on Monday that it was not currently planning to withdraw its roughly 2,500 troops from Iraq, despite Baghdad’s announcement last week beginning the process of removing the US-led military Coalition from the country.

“Right now, I’m not aware of any plans [to plan for withdrawal]. We continue to remain very focused on the defeat of IS [the Islamic State group] mission,” US Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder told a news briefing in Washington, adding that the US forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

According to news agencies, Ryder said that he was also unaware of any notification by Baghdad to the US Department of Defence about a decision to remove US troops from Iraq and referred reporters to the State Department for any diplomatic discussions on the matter.

In the meantime, the possibility of the US withdrawal is providing Iraqi satellite TV channels either inside or outside Iraq with much material for discussion on this crucial issue. Every channel follows its owner’s agenda, and, in fact, channels are used to direct public opinion on important issues.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 11 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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