By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai
Iraq and the Iraqis have spoken: Iraqi Major General Jafar al-Battat, head of Baghdad area security, estimated at “more than one million” the number of protestors who filled up the Karradah and Jadriyeh in Baghdad. Protestors called for the total withdrawal of the US-led foreign forces from the country. They mobilised in response to the call of the Shia cleric Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr, in concert with all Shia groups and other Iraqi minorities who want to see the departure of US forces and an end to US hegemony and domination of Iraq. The cost of pushing the execution button launching deadly missiles from a US drone to assassinate Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani and his companions and the Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes at Baghdad airport will weigh heavily on the US and its presence in the Middle East. The Trump administration is expected to pay a heavy price and the President himself will suffer from it in his forthcoming electoral campaign.
But the story doesn’t end there. Iran and its allies have no intention of allowing a tranquil presence for the US forces in the Middle East until their final withdrawal date. Notwithstanding the distance of all joint Iraqi-US bases from residential areas, there is no doubt the US military presence has become a target.
The US administration and mainstream media attribute the instability of Iraq to the overwhelming Iranian control of the country. This is inaccurate: every single Prime Minister was appointed or approved by the US administration.
The US has never succeeded in bringing stability to Iraq since it began to occupy the country in 2003. US forces suffered continuous attacks after the first year of landing in Iraq by those who rejected the occupation. The US failed to build a robust infrastructure and certainly did not win the hearts and minds of the population even though it had the upper hand in selecting the leaders of Iraq.
American companies benefitted from Iraqi wealth but contributed very little to the country’s progress and the rebuilding of its infrastructure. The US Army was handsomely paid to train the Iraqi army, and the US armament industry benefitted from massive arms and military warfare contracts. However, this training proved of little value when Sunni rebels and ISIS attacked Mosul in 2014; they managed to occupy a third of Iraq in a short time.
The US was in control of most governments and was responsible for appointing the Prime Minister for many years. The first Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, was the “CIA main man”, named by the US-led authority in 2003. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the second Prime Minister, was elected by the transitional Iraqi National Assembly at the suggestion of viceroy Paul Bremer. Al-Jaafari was interviewed by Paul Bremer for long hours over several days before Bremer gave his blessing to the nomination in 2005. This blessing soon ended when President Bush conveyed a message to the Prime Minister via the US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that he “doesn’t want, doesn’t support, doesn’t accept Jaafari.”
In 2006, the largest Iraqi political party, the United Iraqi Alliance selected Nuri al-Maliki on the US recommendation: “Maliki’s reputation is as someone independent of Iran. Iran pressured everyone for Jaafari to stay”, said Ambassador Khalilzad. Iran failed to promote its preferred candidate successfully.
In early 2008, al-Maliki became Iran’s most hated Iraqi when he attacked Jaishal-Mahdi (JaM) led by the Sadrist leader Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr. JaM was a favourite of Iran due to its aggressive stance and numerous attacks on US occupation forces.
However, several months later, Al-Maliki demanded a defined schedule for all US forces to leave the country and end their occupation in 16 months. This decision pleased Iran and led to its change of heart about al-Maliki, even though all Iraqis, Shia, Sunni and Kurds, came to see him as overly authoritarian.
This was the first time Iran managed to bring together Iraqi leaders of all ethnicities to support the candidate of its choice, even though the Americans had first promoted al-Maliki. The stubborn personality of al-Maliki was too attractive for Iran to let him go. He refused to accept the continuous presence of US forces. President Barack Obama took account of al-Maliki’s insistence when he fulfilled his promise to end the US occupation in December 2011.
In 2014, the Marjaiya in Najaf intervened to stop the third term for al-Maliki notwithstanding his electoral victory. Haidar al-Abadi took over, a leader who turned out to be extremely hostile to Major General Qassem Soleimani and very close to the US.
Abadi overtly criticised Soleimani in several occasions, notably when Kirkuk returned to government forces’ control. Moreover, he planned four times to remove commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes from his position as the vice leader of Hashd al-Shaabi. During Abadi’s visit to the Hashd al-Shaabi office, he harshly attacked Abu Mahdi for the portrait of martyrs on the wall and asked him to remove them. Soleimani was hassled at Baghdad airport on more than one occasion and had to wait for hours outside Abadi’s office before he was welcomed.
The end of Abadi’s term in office made room for Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to take the lead. The selection of Abdel Mahdi was a joint un-coordinated choice of both the US Presidential envoy Brett McGurk and Soleimani. Abdel Mahdi was a suitable candidate for the Shia, Sunni and above all for the Kurds.
It was important for Iran to support a candidate that didn’t provoke the US, recognised by Iran as an essential player in the Middle East. To Soleimani, the stability of Iraq was vital. Iraq refused to abide by the US sanctions on Iran and asked to be respected as a partner of both countries, and not a theatre for their battles.
But Iran certainly didn’t expect the US to brutally violate the terms of its presence in Iraq and wage an undeclared war on Iran. When it killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, US antagonism went way beyond a simple “bras-de-fer” on Iraqi soil. In response to this violation, Iran is taking the gloves off: it is now expected to adopt a much more aggressive approach to the US in Iraq.
The US assassinated Soleimani in Iraq and this is where Iran’s response-retaliation is most likely to come. Missiles launched against the US-occupied part of Ayn al-Assad base with at least 34 wounded (so far announced) are only the beginning of Iran’s retribution.
Finding a US target in Iraq is not an easy task because all US forces are inside their bases. Locking down these forces and allowing only air traffic is already a blow to these forces who have become, since the day of the assassination of Soleimani and his companions, an irresistible target.
Iran has found in Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr a controversial but influential Iraqi leader, who himself badly wanted to take the command position in leading the campaign to force US forces out of Iraq. US departure is not imminent. But Iran is a disciplined enemy of the US and not overly impatient to reach its objectives. Tehran is aware that Iraq will fail again to maintain a balance between the US as a strategic ally and Iran as a neighbouring country. And the US, under this administration, feels strong yet lacks the knowledge and maturity to handle such a severe crisis or an even broader conflict with Iran on Iraqi soil.
Will President Trump come to realise the correctness of his predecessor Barack Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011? President Trump will be forced to leave, one way or the other—the Iraqis will force the US troops out of Mesopotamia. This will inevitably open the road for Russia, China and Iran into oil-rich Iraq and its population of 40 million inhabitants that represents a desirable market. The sun of US hegemony is beginning to set, at least in this part of the world.
Proofread by: Maurice Brasher and C.B.G
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