Sofia Melnichuk & Ksenia Melnikova
The United States is increasingly distancing itself from the Middle East. The contingent was withdrawn from Afghanistan, and the military mission in Iraq is coming to an end. Terrorism has been defeated, officials say. But these words can only be a political veil. Where will the American soldiers be sent now and whether a peaceful life awaits the Iraqis, RIA Novosti investigated.
“Iraq is very important for the United States in the Middle East, and we have been deeply involved in its affairs throughout my career,” – this is how Joe Biden began a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi at the White House. The current president was a senator when the Americans invaded the country in 2003.
For the first time, the White House announced the end of hostilities in Iraq in 2010. Biden was then vice president. But four years later, Operation Unwavering Determination began against IS.
Now Joe Biden has officially announced the completion of the military mission in the country.
Our role in Iraq will be to be available, to continue training, to help the Iraqi security forces,” the president explained. There were no other details. Biden did not even answer a question from reporters about which troops would remain in Iraq by December. “It depends on the specific situation at that time,” – tried to clarify the speaker of the White House Jen Psaki.
The Pentagon noted that the United States “should not ignore the problems of the Middle East, but take a different approach to their solution.” A few military men will be left in the country. All attention from now on – “threats from China and Russia.” According to the latest data, there are 2,500 American soldiers in Iraq; at the end of last year, President Donald Trump had already reduced the contingent. Ain al-Assad’s only American base is 160 kilometers north of Baghdad.
Despite the announced victory over IS in 2017, the attacks continue. Last week, Islamists claimed responsibility for a bus bombing near a market in Baghdad. At least 30 people were killed. The Americans are being attacked by militant units supported by Iran. In March, Ain al-Assad was fired upon with rockets, killing one person. In May, the base was attacked by a drone with explosives, in July – again rockets, three wounded.
Mustafa al-Kazemi is considered a Washington-friendly prime minister. He tried to reason with groups associated with Iran. At the same time, he condemned the recent American air strikes against pro-Iranian formations along the border with Syria as violating Iraqi sovereignty. The United States, in turn, noted the prime minister’s successes in rebuilding the country. In June, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the first Egyptian leader to visit the country since the 1990s, visited Baghdad.
The United States also pledged to deliver 500,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to Iraq through the international COVAX program. The drug will arrive in the next two weeks, Biden said. The incidence in the region has increased and hospital fires have become more frequent. In addition, Washington will provide $ 5.2 million for a UN mission to observe parliamentary elections in October – after several postponements. According to experts, al-Kazemi has very good chances there.
However, there is no talk of a complete US withdrawal from Iraq, say all experts interviewed by RIA Novosti. Washington has long fought for this important strategic platform, says Yelena Suponina, a political scientist and expert at the Russian International Affairs Council. The announcements about the withdrawal of troops, in her opinion, are a “political veil”, because the promises given to American voters must be kept.
Iraqi public opinion is also important. “Local politicians put pressure on Mustafa al-Kazemi. The political situation in the country is not easy, the position of the prime minister is not very strong,” she points out. Seven years ago, when the States returned to Iraq, the war on terrorism was a reality, reminds orientalist and publicist Andrei Ontikov. “The Americans played an important role in the victory over IS. There are, of course, questions about the methods they used, for example, in Mosul – the city was almost completely destroyed.”
Now the Iraqi authorities themselves have asked the Americans to leave. “When Donald Trump flew to the base in Iraq, the US ambassador almost ordered the Iraqi prime minister to go there and meet with the president. He refused. This story got into the media, there was a big scandal,” the source told RIA Nov-osti. “And then the Amer-icans struck at the airport in Baghdad, killing Soleim-ani. Again they started talking about the need to withdraw American troops. “
And yet, US military personnel are unlikely to return home immediately, says Danila Krylov, a researcher at the Center for Oriental Studies. “Most likely, there will be a traditional focus with the transition from one Arab country to another – in this case, to Syria. The Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly reported that American troops from Iraq moved to bases in Syria,” the expert explains. It is very likely that the headquarters and intelligence gathering centers in Iraq will be transferred from the military to the diplomatic bloc. “It has long been known that Americans use diplomatic immunity for intelligence and other special services,” adds Krylov.
Focus on China
Many Americans believe that while they fought terrorism without paying due attention to other regions, China has gained strength in the Far East. Now this is the main threat to the United States, and all forces should be thrown there. For some time now, the priority has been not the Central, but the Pacific military command.
The logic of a new era of great-power confrontation with China is forcing the United States to rethink its goals and shift the focus, says Maxim Suchkov, dire-ctor of the Center for Adv-anced American Studies at IMI MGIMO. “The confrontation can be long, which means we need to be selective in the use of resources.
The Middle East has long weighed on Wash-ington, but the attempts of Obama and Trump to somehow optimize the military presence there met with resistance from the Pentagon,” he says. But if you still draw the line, the results are not the most successful: the Americans did not manage to build an independently functioning defense system in Iraq. With their departure, peace and tranquility will not come, the terrorist threat has not disappeared. Time will tell how American instructors and advisers will work in the new environment.