The assassination of Qasim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis fueled the tense relations between Iraq and the United States to a boiling point. On January 5 this year, the Iraqi parliament voted in an extraordinary session in the presence of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on a decision that obliges the government to work to end the request for assistance submitted from it to the international coalition led by Washington, and to end any presence of foreign forces on Iraqi soil.
For its part, the US State Department expressed “disappointment” with this decision, calling on the Iraqi authorities to reconsider it, and Washington, which intends to keep its forces in Iraq, announced that it is studying economic sanctions against Iraq.
And if the Trump administration imposes economic sanctions, this means undermining the Iraqi economy.
We ask here… What are the economic, military and political consequences that would arise if the American forces withdrew from Iraq?
In this context, the New York Times published a report by Alyssa Robin, director of her office in Baghdad, in which she confirmed that Iraq is between the two parties, in light of the escalation of tension between the United States and Iran, which reached its climax after the assassination of the Iranian Quds Force commander, General Qassem Soleimani, in a American drone attack last week near Baghdad International Airport.
The author confirmed the Iraqi parliament’s vote after the incident of Soleimani’s death in favor of the evacuation of the American forces, while a message came from Tehran’s allies in Baghdad, some Iraqi officials believe that it will be a disaster for Iraq in all respects, particularly the economic and security front, foremost of which is the return of the terrorist organization, ISIS.
And she indicates that the economic sanctions that Trump promises to impose on Baghdad, in the event of the evacuation of American forces, as Tehran and its followers want in Iraq, will not affect Iraq alone, but its effects will extend to Iran as well, given the intertwined economy of the two countries, but rather the benefit that Tehran gets more than Baghdad.
And although the newspaper does not focus on this dimension, Iran’s benefit from the American presence in Iraq was mainly when it toppled the Saddam Hussein regime, which was a thorn in the throat of the “Guardian Jurist” regime, and brought Tehran allies to rule in Baghdad, and it is notable at the time that Washington justified the invasion of Iraq under the false claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and a nuclear program, which it knew was not true, while Tehran was at the time developing its nuclear program!
The author says that prominent Iraqi officials, diplomats and researchers have stated that the evacuation of American forces will force Iraq to fall into the arms of Iran, which would deprive it of US dollars and isolate it from the West.
And she points out that Trump’s sanctions may deprive Iraq from the main source that feeds it in dollars, due to the assumption of freezing its account with the US Federal Reserve in New York.
She notes that Iraq’s revenues from oil sales are deposited in that bank, and the government has used to the withdrawal from it to pay employee salaries and pay its other contractual obligations.
The author also states that the United States may also resort to canceling exemptions that allow Iraq to buy Iranian gas, which the state depends on for operating electricity generators in the south, and in providing at least 35% of the energy supplies needed for the whole country, which may fuel the turmoil in the south once Temperatures rise, which will lead to a decrease in electricity supplies, as happened in 2018.
Imposing the embargo on Iraqi oil will constitute a painful blow to the country, especially since the proceeds from oil exports are estimated at about 90% of revenues of annual budgets, noting Iraq still suffers from 40 years of continuous wars, International blockade and terrorism and the worst phenomena of public corruption and unemployment.
The embargo will leave its mark on Iraqi oil exports, which will mean a decline in Iraqi exports about 3.2 million barrels per day, as well as the embargo on Iraq and the intensification of battles on its lands will mean the withdrawal of oil companies operating there currently, and indeed, some American operating companies have started withdrawing their foreign employees, such as « Exxon Mobil »from the south and“ Chevron ”from the north, which will delay the development of Iraq’s production capacity, currently amounting to about 5 million barrels per day (the second largest producer in the Organization of« OPEC »).
In addition to Iraq’s geostrategic and political value, this country is today considered one of the largest oil exporting countries in the world, with huge reserves in the long run. If the presence of United States remains the same, the economies of the USA and Iraq and the global economy will reap these benefits together, but if the US leaves, Iran will actually increase its control over the huge energy and financial resources, and prevent its use in Iraqi development projects in order to avoid sanctions and largely support its ambitions of hegemony.
As for the military, it is necessary for the United States to maintain a military presence in Iraq, however modest, to ensure the defeat of the terrorist organization ISIS.
On the other hand, if the killing of Soleimani leads to the withdrawal of the American forces involved in local operations against the organization, this would constitute a major blow to the war on terror, even after the terrorist ISIS lost the last strongholds of its alleged caliphate in March 2019, it was still able to carry out 867 terrorist operations inside Iraq alone during the remained period of the year, and the number and intensity of these attacks will undoubtedly increase in the absence of the military pressure exerted by the American and allied forces, and the ongoing operations against the strongholds in which the organization operates in equal measure in Syria will also be mortally undermined, UN estimates that ISIS still has a reserve of $ 300 million to support its terrorist campaign, while Kurdish officials point out that today, the organization has reassembled its ranks in Iraq equipped with “better techniques and methods.”
That is why Ahmed Al-Masari, the deputy in the Iraqi parliament and a leader in the Salvation and Development Front led by Osama Najafi, demanded the American administration not to withdraw its forces from Iraq, especially the Sunni cities and governorates occupied by ISIS, and he said, “We as Sunni blocs did not vote in Parliament to remove foreign forces and we will stand against it today and tomorrow due to the real concerns that ISIS will return to our Sunni cities in the event of the Americans withdrawing, because we still need their military and intelligence support, and because ISIS fighters still pose a threat to the security of our liberated areas.
He added: “The American side has the technological capability to confront the sleeper cells of the ISIS organization, which is superior to the Iraqi military forces.”
He added, “If the political partners in the country succeed in removing the American forces, the Sunni Arabs have one option to protect themselves and their regions, which is the application of the federal system, in order to seek international support and provide a new ally and resort to it a constitutional and legitimate right to protect the component and liberated cities, and to face challenges whether the threat from ISIS or the incursion of armed militias loyal to Iran ».
He emphasized that “the image of the Americans in the minds of the Sunni people as occupying forces is completely different. They now welcome them and view them as a true supporter and a strong friend in the face of Iranian influence and armed terrorist organizations.”
And that “the areas destroyed by the war cannot be reconstructed and defended from any potential evil, as well as bringing investment projects, ending unemployment and providing job and job opportunities for unemployed youth, except by strengthening the relationship with the American side, we need their help.”
He explained: «The Iraqi government does not have the right to demand the United States of America to withdraw from Iraq, because it is a caretaker government that has no authority, and that these forces came at the time of a government that was fully completed, but in the event of early elections resulting in a parliament that creates a new government, that the elected government will study where is the interest of Iraq, is it in the withdrawal of Americans or their stay?”
He concluded, “It is shameful for the ruling political class that is now calling for the departure of the American forces at a time when these people are satisfied with the Americans when they were actual occupiers of the country.”
Politically, if American forces remain in Iraq, it will greatly enhance the position of the United States in this country , and contribute to countering the harmful influence of Iran throughout the region, but its exit means that Iraq will be in danger of slipping back into the devastating isolation that it previously lived, knowing that it would then be less able to resist Iran’s fierce politics.
In fact, most Iraqis are wary of this idea, and it is true, and the best evidence for this is the hundreds of thousands of anti-Iran demonstrators who have gone to the Iraqi streets in recent months, especially in Shiite areas, they prefer a largely an Iraq that is sovereign, peaceful, pluralistic and fully integrated into the international community, and the continued American diplomatic and military presence would help to enhance those hopes.
As such, it is reasonable for Washington to expect the Iraqi government to put forward conditions to make this presence beneficial to both parties.
There is a direct link between Soleimani’s assassination and the established priority in his policy of forcing the United States to get out of Iraq, and if Washington withdrew now, Soleimani would have accomplished by his assassination what he tried in vain to achieve in his life, and this matter will be much more than a symbolic and moral failure, but rather it will be a great political defeat for Washington, and a victory for Iran, and Iraq awaits a very dangerous fate, but if American leaders maintain their position in Iraq, they will confirm the failure of Soleimani’s plans, which would erode Iran’s international standing, strengthen Washington’s position, and maintain the stability of Iraq at the same time.
Iraqi Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies