Empower regular Iraqis to end their country’s forever war
This has been a terrible year for Iraq. Well, 2020 started out great with the killing of Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 2, but it went downhill from there. I will revisit the anniversary of the Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis strike a bit later, as we get closer to its one-year anniversary — and so will the Iraqi militias.
Iraq’s 2021 depends on the actions taken by the Trump administration over the next seven weeks and those taken after inauguration day on Jan. 20.
President Donald Trump’s Iraq and Iran team would be wise to sanction the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Basij, and the Quds Force in its entirety for human rights abuses, and do the same with Iraqi militia leaders, political parties, and militias tied to Iran. Sanctions for documented human rights violations and abuses would be lasting and would stay in place regardless of who is in office in 2021. Lifting sanctions on individuals and entities tied to human rights abuses would be impossible for the Biden administration to justify to the American people, especially to moderate Democrats.
Moderate Democrats will have more power in Congress, even though they lost seats due to the radical positions taken by members like Rep. Ilhan Omar. These moderate Democrats still see Iran as an oppressive terrorist state and want it held accountable.
Let us look at the 2021 Iraqis do not want. It is a year where a Biden administration — one that has advertised a pro-Iran policy — would accelerate the end of what is left of Iraq’s sovereignty. It would clear the way for the Quds Force and its proxies to have four more years to further solidify their control of Iraq, destabilize the Levant, and threaten US allies in the region.
All we have to do is look at what Soleimani did with the last two years of the Obama administration and the initial two years of the Trump administration, when Brett McGurk and Jim Mattis ignored the Quds Force commander’s growing influence in Iraq and Syria and urged Trump to do the same.
Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s successor, has ordered subordinated Iraqi militias not to provoke the US while Trump is in office and await Tehran’s favored candidate — as assessed by the US intelligence community — Joe Biden. Tehran favored Biden, while the Iranian people wanted Trump. And Baghdad took Tehran’s position despite the majority of Iraqis favoring Trump. In both cases, the people under oppressive rule wanted Trump, while their oppressors hoped for Biden.
The Iran-aligned Iraqi militias have been ordered not to attack the US Embassy or US mission in Iraq until after Biden’s inauguration. It will be hard for them not to attack on Jan. 2, the one-year anniversary of the strike on designated terrorists Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Al-Muhandis, but the US will be ready to respond under Trump.
While Ghaani’s militias are taking a tactical pause, they are still killing Iraqis and the international community should take action, along with the US, to designate and sanction these criminals.
It is time to grant victory to those who are willing to die for an Iraq that is free from Iran’s malign influence.
The Nasiriyah killings of last week — by militias loyal to Tehran — should not go unpunished by Iraqis. They are the very people waiting to be empowered by the US to make the chant of “Iraq Hurra! Iran Barra!” (Iran out, Iraq is free) a reality.
It is time to empower the Sunni-Shiite organic anti-Iran resistance in Iraq through a turn away from Baghdad and an engagement with those Iraqis who are willing to forgive the US and allow it to correct its mistakes. There are Iraqi leaders inside and outside of Iraq encouraging a new US approach. These Iraqis are pro-US, anti-Iran, and are even willing to make peace with Israel over time.
It is time to end this forever war by granting victory to those who are willing to die for an Iraq that is free from Iran’s malign influence.
How do we achieve victory? Give Iraqis victory.
Listen to Iraqis over Iraq’s ruling class. Listen to the Iraqis that are willing to die for their rights and freedom from Iran. Listen to the Iraqis that taught us to defeat Al-Qaeda. Listen to the Iraqis that told us not to use Iran’s militias against Daesh. Listen to the Iraqis that tell us how to end this forever war. Listen to the Iraqi people instead of those in power and those Americans who benefit from forever wars.
- Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.