US withdrawal from Iraq would play into Iran’s hands

US withdrawal from Iraq would play into Iran’s hands

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Iraqi protesters storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Dec. 31, 2019. (Getty Images)

Multiple news reports last week indicated that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi that Washington might close its embassy in Baghdad and withdraw its staff due to repeated attacks on the compound. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the US State Department said that Washington had previously made clear that the Iranian-backed groups that are firing missiles at the embassy “pose an unacceptable danger to everyone in Iraq, from diplomatic officials and facilities to Iraqi activists and families.”
Following up on these reports and observing events in the region, it is disconcerting to see what is happening in Iraq at a time when the country’s Arab neighbors are beginning to be reassured by the support the current Iraqi government receives — support that has not been offered to any other government.
The first key factor is that support for the government comes from inside Iraq. For much of the last year, the people have been in the squares denouncing and demonstrating against the Iranian-backed militias and Tehran’s interference in Iraq, as well as the deterioration of living conditions and the corruption that these Iran-affiliated militias have caused by stealing Iraq’s wealth and using it against the people as Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi’s salaries, weapons, training, and support for Iran.
The Iraqi squares have been flooded with demonstrators and, this time, the Shiite areas, which were once incubating the militias, joined in because of the repressive practices of these militias and their interference in the politics and economy of Iraq. Iraqi Shiites went out on to the streets as they were fed up with these militias’ terrorism and their inhumane practices.
So, today, the Al-Kadhimi government receives strong popular support from inside Iraq. If it were not for the coronavirus pandemic, the people would still be demonstrating on the streets of Baghdad and all Iraqi regions in order to restore the country’s identity, reject sectarianism and expel Ali Khamenei’s terrorist militias, which are being used against the interests of Iraq and the region to enter into conflict with neighbors and with the US. America is the first ally of Iraq in the war on Daesh, but Iran is using these terrorist militias to attack US interests in the region, including targeting its diplomatic headquarters with Katyusha rockets and other weapons that threaten the lives of American diplomats.
Secondly, Arab support for Iraq has not ceased. The Gulf countries have made great efforts, particularly Saudi Arabia, which — every time a new Iraqi government takes over — extends a helping hand and invites the prime minister to visit the Kingdom, starting with Ayad Allawi and including Nouri Al-Maliki, Haider Abadi, Adel Abdul Mahdi and Al-Kadhimi. Saudi Arabia has also reopened a consulate in Baghdad and its land border with Iraq. All of this comes in support of the Kingdom’s brothers in Iraq in the hope of helping remove them from the Iranian quagmire, as well as return them to the Arab embrace. There has also been movement by many other Arab countries toward Iraq, such as the UAE, Egypt and Jordan. There is a great Arab willingness, among peoples and governments, to stand with Iraq and extricate it from the clutches of the Iranian terrorist militias and its subordination to Tehran.
Third is the American support, which is of great importance, as it represents international backing, especially under the Trump administration as it seeks to expel Iran and its terrorist militias from the Iraqi arena. The January killings of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis represented the correct path to confront Iranian terrorism in Iraq and the wider region. This is considered to be the most important step in the effort to pressure Iran, its Iraqi militias, and its other militias in the region, such as those in Lebanon or even Yemen, because they all work with the same ideology and all of them follow Khamenei.

There is a great Arab willingness, among peoples and governments, to stand with Iraq.

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri

The availability of each of these three factors strengthens the others and promotes joint action to defeat the Iranian terrorist project in the region and throughout the world. The US leaving the arena and closing its Iraqi embassy would give the Iran-backed militias more opportunities and they would show themselves as the strongest force in the country. They will frustrate the Iraqi people and the region unless strong military strikes are prepared that seek to eradicate these terrorist militias by targeting their leaders and sending them to meet Soleimani.
The responsibility is really on the shoulders of the US first, as it was the one that removed the previous regime and handed Iraq over to Iran. But the responsibility is also shared by the current Iraqi government, as it has support that no other government has found before: It has internal, Arab and international backing.
The opportunity offering itself today is ripe for getting rid of this Iranian terrorism. Everyone must be prepared to take responsibility so that Iraq can be saved from this Khamenei terrorism forever; otherwise, the intruder of embassies, the militia leader and the maker of terrorism will be saved not by his own strength, but by everyone else’s indolence about taking a decisive decision against him.

  • Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri is a political analyst and international relations scholar. Twitter: @drhamsher7
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