US Plans Redeployment From Iraq After 17 Years Of Its Military Presence
The Iraq-US agreement comes after repeated rocket and “explosive-laden” attacks on Iraqi bases housing US-led coalition forces.
Iraq and the US on Saturday agreed on a plan for redeploying US-led coalition forces outside the war-torn country, according to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, reports Anadolu Agency.
A ministry statement said the draft of a timeline for the redeployment of troops will be made by the Iraq-US military committee in July and August. There was no further information provided about the plan.
“The US side has reiterated respect of Iraq’s sovereignty,” the statement said, adding that the US-led coalition forces “provide advising and support to fully defeat Daesh”.
As per ministry reports, the Iraq-US have agreed to discuss bilateral defense strategic affairs for a long-term security relationship.
Iraq’s Lt-Gen Abdul-Amir Al-Shammari and his US counterpart Paul Calvert met in accordance with the agreed strategic dialogue of technical security talks last April.
Xinhua reported the joint statement issued in April said the decision was made following the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue.
The delegation was led by the Iraq Foreign Affairs Minister Fuad Hussein and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The strategic dialogue was held in accordance with the guidelines of the Strategic Framework Agreement signed in 2008. It happened via video teleconference and covered security and counter-terrorism, economics and energy, political issues, and cultural relations.
The statement made it clear that the Iraq government is committed to protecting the international coalition personnel, convoys, and diplomatic facilities. It further emphasized that the US and coalition personnel presence on military bases are actually Iraqi bases. It said that US and coalition personnel presence is only for Iraq’s support to eradicate the IS group.
The new strain on Baghdad and Washington relations came after January 3, 2020. Under Trump’s administration, an American drone struck a convoy at Baghdad Airport. In this fierce attack, former commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Qasem Soleimani, and Deputy Chief of Iraq’s paramilitary Hashd Shaabi forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were shot down.
Following the attack, on January 5, 2020, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution to end the presence of foreign forces in Iraq.
The US airstrikes triggered several unidentified militias to launch rockets on Iraqi bases with US troops. Even the American embassy in the Green Zone in Central Baghdad witnessed these rockets and mortar attacks.
Amid the tension escalation, the two sides agreed to strategic dialogue on June 12 last year. In the session, the US administration promised to deploy troops in the country.
The US forces first entered Iraq in March 2003. They wanted to destroy alleged weapons of mass destruction which were owned by Baghdad. The American forces in the process ousted the country’s leader, Saddam Hussein.
It is after 17 years of conflict that the US and coalition forces are now keen to focus more on training and advisory tasks. According to the April 7 statement, this task will allow the redeployment of the remaining combat forces from Iraq. They further pointed out the “increasing capacity” of Iraqi security forces.
The US has some 2,500 troops in Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the global coalition to defeat what remains of the ISIS caliphate that previously controlled parts of Iraq and Syria.
These forces were deployed in Iraq to support the country’s forces in the fight against IS militants. They trained and advised the Iraqi forces.
US and coalition forces have witnessed repeated attacks since October 2019. The US has constantly blamed Iran-backed factions for the rocket attacks. Since the beginning of this year, over 42 attacks were witnessed which targeted the US embassy in Baghdad. These were the Iraqi bases housing US troops or the convoys carrying logistical support.
According to the Iraqi forces, Wednesday’s attack included three explosives-packed drones. As per the statement the drones had been intercepted by air defenses on Wednesday evening. This is the fourth such attack within two months time period.
The escalation in attacks against American interests is majorly done by pro-Iranian forces. The US had to retrieve last month from the Balad base due to the repeated attacks where it had weapons firm Lockheed Martin in order to safeguard its personnel.
The Iraqi authorities have constantly blamed “outlaws” for the “terrorist” attacks. Meanwhile, the US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program has decided to offer $3 million as a reward for information on rockets or explosive-laden drone attacks against Americans in Iraq.
This reward announcement comes as a result of the “explosive-laden” drone attack on Baghdad airport where the US troops were deployed.
Russia’s role in Iraq
As the US scales down its on-ground operation in the Middle East in the past five years, Russia and China have been occupying the left-out spaces expanding their geostrategic and military influence in Iraq. OilPrice.com has highlighted how ExxonMobil has decided to sell its stake in Iraq’s West Qurna 1 oil field.
Russia, just like Iran has always regarded Iraq as an integral part of Iran. What China pointed out last year about the U.S. scaling down its military involvement in the Middle East’s “endless wars” has been done by Russia for years now.
Russia, which has achieved control over northern Iraq’s oil and gas sector now looks to expand its footprint in southern Iraq.
With the U.S. exit from West Qurna-1, Kremlin’s Lukoil is ramping up production in West Qurna-2. Lukoil holds a 75 percent stake in the field, located 65 kilometers northwest of the southern port of Basra, with the remainder held by Iraq’s state-run North Oil Company.
This puts Russia and its strategic partner, China in a strong position. Russia plays a very crucial role as Iraq’s oil and gas field along with the Common Seawater Supply Project remains to be Iraq’s main long-term future plans.