Iraq Playing Balancing Act Between US and Iran by Passing Resolution to Expel Foreign Troops, Say Analysts

Presence of US troops inside Iraq most likely not to end soon
January 7, 2020 Updated: January 8, 2020

A resolution passed by the Iraqi Members of Parliament on Jan. 5 calling for the expulsion of the foreign troops from the country is a “balancing” act between the United States and Iran, according to expert sources who said the expulsion will most likely not take place.

“The government commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting ‘Islamic State’ due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory,” read the resolution passed in a parliament session on Sunday.

“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.”

Esra Serim, a Turkish researcher in France, told The Epoch Times that Iraq’s interests are threatened due to the growing tension between the United States and Iran on its soil and the country can not afford an “escalation” of conflict between the two adversaries.

“Iraq’s interests are at stake due to the recent tension between Washington and Tehran, and Baghdad cannot bear any possible consequences on its territory that would be triggered by another escalation,” said Serim in an email.

Epoch Times Photo
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pray near the coffins of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an airstrike at Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 6, 2020. (Official President’s Website/Handout via Reuters)

Kashish Parpiani, a Research Fellow with the Observer’s Research Foundation, told The Epoch Times that the resolution acts as an important balancing act because, on one hand, Iraqi wants to keep access to U.S. resources being invested in military training, and on the other hand, even up the situation with the Iranians because of the role Iranian proxies play in its internal situation.

Since the final territorial defeat of the ISIS group in Syria in March, when the terrorists lost the last pocket of their so-called caliphate to coalition-backed forces, the U.S.-led international coalition has been training Iraqi forces to secure the country against lingering threats posed by cells of Daesh—the Arabic name for ISIS—operating in the countryside.

Poorly trained and equipped, underfunded, and corrupted in the decade after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the army disintegrated in the face of sweeping advances from ISIS.

It was then that the Iraqi parliament voted to invite international forces back into the country, to turn the tide in the war against ISIS. The presence of the same U.S. military forces are now a threat to Iraq, according to Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, a defense and geopolitics analyst based in Washington.

“I think this move made sense for Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and the Iraqi government,” Sanchez told The Epoch Times.

“If U.S. troops do depart Iraq, any retaliatory operations from Iran against U.S. assets will, at least, not occur in Iraqi soil,” said Sanchez.

Iraq’s Neutralization Policy

Iraq is continuing to try to achieve a neutralization policy between the United States and Iran through Sunday’s resolution. However, keeping in mind the complexity of the multilateral tensions in the region, it’s impossible or extremely difficult to achieve, said analysts.

Serim, a Senior Researcher, PhD, at University of Aix Marseille, emphasized that the resolution doesn’t only mean the expulsion of the U.S. troops from Iraq but also the Iranian military.

“The Iraqi MPs resolution means that the Iraqi government, in fact, does not want both the American military presence and Iran’s ideological and military support,” she said.

“Iraq is a key country for both the U.S. and Iran. Because, if Iraq has a balancing policy between the U.S. and Iran, Baghdad could be able to keep away from the bilateral or multilateral tensions between the U.S., Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Serim believes that if the Iraqi government is able to achieve this “neutralization policy” through Sunday’s resolution it would be able to experience “full independence” first time ever since the U.S. intervention of 2003.

“Lastly, the Iraqi government thinks that it would play an appeasing role like Oman between the U.S. and Iran if it would be able to deport all foreign troops from Iraq. The truth is that the Iraq central government is trying to accomplish this act or pursue this naturalization policy to provide its domestic peace and end the recent domestic unrest in Iraq,” explained Serim.

US embassy baghdad
Iraqi counter-terrorism forces stand guard in front of the U.S. embassy in the capital Baghdad on Jan. 2, 2020. (Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images)

Kanishkan Sathasivam, a Massachusetts based Middle East expert agrees with what Serim said. “I think that has been Iraq’s approach thus far.”

“They have wanted to have good relations with both the U.S. and Iran because both sides give them things they very badly need,” said Sathasivam, the Director of the William H. Bates Center for Public & Global Affairs.

He however also acknowledged that this neutralization policy hasn’t been successful until now. “But it was widely known and acknowledged that this balancing act could not be maintained indefinitely, and at some point, they would have to come down on one side or the other simply because U.S.-Iran relations were just too volatile and had too much potential for problems and escalations,” he said.

Mumbai-based Parpiani, who studies U.S. Foreign Policy, is of the opinion that Iraq is not in a position to achieve a neutralization policy between the United States and Iran for the reason that the “Iraqi dispensation derives much of its legitimacy from socio-political proximity to Shias.”

“Because Iran’s penetration into the Iraqi socio-political fabric is real, and so is America’s unfinished business with Iran,” he explained.

Serin also agrees that though Iraq is trying to achieve a neutralization policy through Sunday’s resolution, it is “not very likely” to happen.

“Because Iran’s ideological and historical presence in Iraq has still been quite robust. We’ll see its implications in a few years if the Iraqis could succeed in keeping away from both,” she affirmed.

Will US Troops Actually Leave Iraq?

Iraqi lawmakers backing the non-binding resolution asked the government on Sunday to end a 2014 agreement with Washington to station an estimated 5,200 troops in Iraq to help in the fight against ISIS. Experts told The Epoch Times that the resolution is most likely not going to lead to the expulsion of the U.S. troops from multiple locations in Iraq.

“Parliament’s decision is not a binding decision,” Eldad Shavit, a senior research fellow with the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel, told The Epoch Times.

Parpiani corroborated what Shavit said: “My sense is that Iraq will stop at this resolution which derides U.S. military presence in the country. The Iraqi military and its force readiness depend on U.S. military aid and training,” he explained.

Serin said that the resolution is more about Iraq trying to look “impartial in the region” but the U.S. military presence will most likely continue inside Iraq because “the U.S. troops have a strategical consideration due to the Russian presence in Syria and Israel’s protection against the Iranian regime.”

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Army Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed from Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, heading to the U.S. Central Command area in response to events in Iraq, on Jan. 1, 2020. (Capt. Robyn Haake/U.S. Army/AFP via Getty Images)

She however also added that “the Iraqi government will not withdraw the resolution concerning the deportation of the foreign troops whatever Washington claims.”

As uncertainty prevailed over the scene on Sunday after the Iraqi Parliament passed the resolution, President Donald Trump threatened harsh sanctions against Iraq if the U.S. troops are expelled from the country.

Sathasivam explained that the troops in the eight facilities across Iraq are most likely not going to move out because the resolution is not a “law” and the Iraqi administration is not legally bound by it.

“The PM is currently serving as a caretaker PM and as such does not have the power to enact any legislation. But the PM can still use his executive power to honor the resolution by canceling the bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Iraq on the stationing of U.S. forces in Iraq. He would need to do this in a written declaration to the U.S. side, which has not yet happened,” said Sathasivam.

Shavit, who had earlier served in the Israeli Defense Force’s Intelligence Corps and at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tel Aviv, added another dimension to the meaning of the Sunday’s resolution and said the resolution denotes an increasing “trend that is not new but has now urged the demand that the U.S. troops leave Iraq.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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