It’s been two years since the United States withdrew from Iraq. Iraq has since been in a state of turmoil with corrupt public officials, nefarious relationships with other nations, and a resurgent al-Qaeda. The United States has worked hard to rid the al-Qaeda presence in the region but al-Qaeda has different plans.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not been the most trusted despot for Americans. Maliki has requested additional military equipment from the United States several times and US officials have cited ethnic alienation and harsh military crackdowns on Iraqi citizens as reasons not to provide such aid. However, it has been reported for some time that the US government has agreed to send military equipment to Iraq. In two separate deals, the United States will be providing a total of over $6 billion worth of aid. The two most noteworthy shipments will include much sought after APACHE helicopters and HELLFIRE Missiles. The United States has determined that its security as well as the security of the region is dependent upon this necessary equipment.
The US government asserts the sale protects its interests “by providing Iraq with critical capability to protect itself from terrorist and conventional threats, to enhance the protection of key oil infrastructure and platforms, and to reinforce Iraqi sovereignty.” They also state the sale of the helicopters will allow “Iraqi Security Forces to be trained on the operation and maintenance of six leased US APACHE helicopters in preparation of their receipt of new-built aircraft.”
It is clear the United States still remains committed to Iraq even after withdrawal and a Status of Arms Agreement failed at passage. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing this morning, Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, stated that despite failure to reach a Status of Arms Agreement, the US still trains Iraqi Special Forces. He also stated that when the US sells APACHE helicopters to Iraq, they are getting a 30 year relationship in terms of training pilots. Contrary to what many see as a blatant abandonment of Iraq, McGurk’s testimony points to a continuing relationship and commitment to Iraq, which includes ensuring Sunni involvement in upcoming elections.
While Sunni alienation of the Maliki Shia majority government is most often discussed in terms of turmoil in Iraq, the issue with Northern Iraq, mainly Kurdistan, is overlooked. As the US government claims, they are committed to protecting Iraq’s oil infrastructure but the issue of Kurdish oil disputes with Baghdad is neglected. The Kurds currently sit on a gold mine of oil, to which they believe they are entitled. However, under current Iraqi law, all exported oil must go through Baghdad, forcing the Kurds to allow Iraqi government access and monetary benefits from oil on their lands. For a few years now, some have speculated whether or not the Kurds are willing to wage a civil war with Baghdad over oil rights. The Kurds had even discussed constructing a pipeline through Europe, which would allow them to privately export “their” oil. Turkey recently reassured Iraq that they are not going to let this happen and that Iraq’s oil exports are safe. An Iraqi Ministry spokesperson stated recently, “The Turkish government has assured us that no oil would be exported from any area in Iraq without the prior approval of the central government or the Petroleum Ministry.”
The Kurds have faced serious ethnic divides for centuries in regions such as Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Brett McGurk also stated in his Congressional testimony that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or also ISIS) has attacked Kurds to establish boundaries. There have also been reports recently of Kurdish residents traveling to neighboring Syria to join in the Jihadist efforts with the hopes of one day returning to Iraq to carryout Jihadist activity.
While the drone campaign has not been as prevalent in Iraq as in other surrounding regions, Mr. McGurk stated HELLFIRE missiles have been used to disrupt al-Qaeda safe havens in Iraq. Some, including Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), believe the United States should continue to use air strikes in Iraq especially since improvised explosive devices (IEDs) surround these so-called safe havens making ground infiltration dangerous. From McGurk’s Congressional testimony, it appears the key areas to focus on in terms of improving security in Iraq are securing its borders and disrupting Iranian over-flights. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce (R-CA) asked McGurk about the crisis of suicide bombers in Iraq to which McGurk explained the majority of them are foreign fighters not from Iraq. Even more startling is that these suicide bombers are much more effective than car bombs because they are able to penetrate more secure spaces.
Even though the United States does not maintain an official military presence in Iraq, that does not mean they are not committed to Iraqi security. As demonstrated by fickle leaders such as Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, Maliki is not the most forthcoming ally, which is especially troubling since the logic behind the Iraqi invasion was to establish a US ally in the Middle East. At least now, the US government has determined Maliki is trustworthy enough, or their security is so important, that the United States is willing to provide critical military equipment. The United States, however, must continue to monitor the situation in Kurdistan because this growing concern could pose much graver problems in the future if left alone.