What happens if US withdraws its troops from Iraq? Here are five potential geopolitical scenarios
On January 10, Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi requested the US officials to send representatives to Iraq to discuss mechanisms for the withdrawal of US troops. However, the State Department officials said the US does not intend to pull its troops out.
After the assassination of top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani, the focus is back on the Middle East. While the world has been left worried over a possible US-Iran war, speculation is also rife over the continuation of the American forces in Iraq, the country Washington had invaded in 2003 as a pre-emptive action against Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has remained a major foreign-policy quagmire for the Americans for almost 17 years now and as per some experts, the snowballing crisis against Iran could also give Washington an exit route from Iraq.
The parliament of Iraq voted in favor of a resolution in the wake of Soleimani’s killing that also eliminated some Iraqi leaders to evict the American troops from the country. Washington committed a major blunder thereafter after an unsigned letter from Marine Brig. Gen. William Seely III reached the Iraqi military suggesting that the US would quit the Middle Eastern nation. But Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joints Chief Mark Milley rubbished such speculations, leaving the Iraqi leadership fuming.
It is still too early to say whether the Americans would leave Iraq now to fulfill President Donald Trump’s objective to end Washington’s “endless wars” abroad — something on which even his staunchest of opponents agree with him. But what if the US exits Iraq today? Will the consequences be too big for the Middle East and push the region into chaos?
Here are five probable consequences that could happen if Trump gives marching orders to his troops stationed in Iraq, a country where the US-led coalition had tried to export democracy but the project hasn’t delivered on the expected lines.
Iran will gain weight in the region
The US pulling out of Iraq will strengthen Iran’s hands in the region. Both the Americans and Iranians have pushed their respective agendas in Iraq since the 2003 war and the people of Iraq have suffered enormously because of those ploys. America’s exit now will only give Iran a welcome opportunity to strongly influence Iraq and the popular uprising there against the US and Iranian tactics is expected to turn more hostile, seeing the region slipping into unrest further. This will make it less comfortable for countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, which are Tehran’s fierce rivals.
Iraq will slide back into chaos
The US-led West has played a decisive role in the defeat of the IS in Iraq. But if it withdraws now, the terror outfit will have a big opportunity to regroup itself and pose a challenge to the Iraqi state. The country is still in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and stability is required to help the millions that have been displaced by conflicts and violence over the years. The two-pronged strategy of keeping the IS at bay and reconstructing Iraq can only happen if there is a minimum stability in place. A sudden American withdrawal will certainly leave Iraq weak and exposed — politically, diplomatically and militarily — causing more hardships to its people.
Iraq’s Kurds will be cornered
The US has already left the Syrian Kurds in the lurch after Trump decided to pull his troops out of the country’s northern parts in October, exposing them to attacks from Turkey and a resurgent Islamic State (IS). The Iraqi Kurds could also be challenged if the American safety umbrella is gone. The Kurds in Iraq will be vulnerable to not only the central power in Iraq, which is headed by a pro-Iran leader but also to the Shia militias. While Iraq’s Kurdistan is seen as a stabilizer by many observers, the security and autonomy that the region enjoys now could be thwarted by the Shia militias and Iran.
The war on terror will be undermined
The US has strengthened Iraq’s counter-terrorism capacity in the post-Saddam era. The US contribution in this regard has been one of significance as the multi-ethnic counter-terror force has lived up to its expectation of being uncorrupted. But an American withdrawal could leave the balance of power in Iraq in favor of Iran which controls many of the militias that took on the IS in Iraq. The US absence could see all its counter-terror efforts going down the drain as the force it helped form could merge with the Iran-backed militias. That will be a big blow to the Iraqi state itself.
Russia will play a calculated role
All eyes will be on Russia once the US decides to pull out of Iraq. The Kremlin has eyed an assertion in Afghanistan even in the presence of US because of security-related concerns. In Iraq, too, a resurgence of the IS could see Russia backing Iran even stronger just like it has re-engaged with the Taliban in Afghanistan. But having said that, the Russians will also be alert in not getting too much into Iraq and make it its own Vietnam. Russia has a torrid experience of invading Afghanistan in the late 1970s and facing the heat there for a decade. The Vladimir Putin regime will closely watch and keep the West guessing about a possible fulfillment of the vacuum created by the Americans’ withdrawal but it won’t really make itself a part of Iraq’s internal mess. Just like its other ally Turkey was left calling the shots in Syria, Russia will be content with Iran doing the same in Iraq.