Friday, May 20, 2022

OP-ED: The Iraqi Life Of Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden has reached an agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi, according to which, as of the end of this year, the U.S. military will no longer participate in any combat mission in the Middle Eastern country. In theory, the decision will close a cycle opened – with an interruption between 2011 and 2014 – with the 2003 invasion ordered by then President George W. Bush.

The agreement is part of Biden’s strategy to end the direct involvement of the U.S. military in wars that have been going on for almost two decades and of which the maximum exponent is the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It should be noted, however, that the announcement on Iraq is more of a political than a practical variant, because it is not a complete withdrawal – as is the case in Afghanistan – but consists of formally limiting the functions of the US troops deployed. The US currently maintains some 2,500 troops in Iraq and the deployment may continue for “training and logistical assistance”, in the words of the US Administration, which are now a large part of their functions. Remaining on the ground, even if not fighting, has strategic value.

While, therefore, things do not change much for Washington, the announcement is a victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Al Kadhimi, who faces a general election in October that he can now go into with a victory over the most anti-American factions of the electorate.

Unlike Afghanistan, where the complete withdrawal is causing a turnaround with the strong advance of the Taliban, in this case, foreseeably, there will not be a very tangible change in the scenario with respect to neighboring countries. The continued military presence in Iraq will serve as a warning to Iran, a country that exerts great influence over an important part of the Iraqi political spectrum, and also as support for the almost one thousand military personnel in Syria who collaborate with the militias opposing the regime of Bachar el Asad and who at the same time are fighting against what is left of the Islamic State.

The conclusion is that the US continues to consider its military presence in the country as strategic, but this will now take a less costly form in political terms for both Baghdad and Washington. In any case, Biden has opted for a clear message to the region that he is not abandoning Iraq, a very different path to that of the Afghan withdrawal. The latter, after 20 years of operations, is a perplexing withdrawal, as it leaves the way largely open to the Taliban and the setback in rights that they represent.