The events in Iraq represented by the American strike on a Hezbollah battalion camp in the Al-Qaim region located on the Iraqi-Syrian border on December 29, 2019, and then the American raid that targeted General Qassem Soleimani (commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps in charge of military operations outside the Iranian border) , which finally led to take decision by the House of Representatives on the US presence in Iraq.
US President Donald Trump has rejected the idea of the exit from Iraq, threatening to impose severe sanctions against Baghdad if US forces are forced to leave. He said, “If they do ask us to leave, and if they don’t do it in a very friendly basis , we will impose sanctions on them like they have never seen before , it will make the Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame ‘. ” And if there is any hostility, and they do anything that we think is inappropriate, we will impose very large sanctions on Iraq “.
That decision sparked great Iraqi controversy and division, and in the event that the American forces leave in an unfriendly way – as Trump said – we wonder who are the losers and the winners from that exit?
As for the for the losers, Iraq will be the most prominent loser from the exit, and this will be reflected on the Iraqi economic and military side, economically: Iraq will not be able to withstand long in the face of the US economic sanctions to be imposed on this country burdened by crises, in the event that the caretaker government implemented the decision of the House of Representatives to remove American forces from Iraq.
And about the potential risks in the event of sanctions against Iraq by the United States of America, including : The possibility of stopping the supply of Iraq with the dollar, which is an easy measure to take by the United States, given that countries have full sovereignty over their currency, and this would negatively affect the rise in the price of the dollar against the dinar here, and Iraq has no choice but to go to deal in other currencies, which will need a period of not short, for example, the shift to dealing in the euro, which means entering into negotiations that are not easy with European banks, as most international banks have difficult conditions and restrictions to deal with a Iraq as an unstable country with many problems and will be dealt with very cautiously, in addition to the transition to other currencies requires changing the country’s commercial behavior.
Among the possible risks is the United States of America’s going to “deprive certain parties in Iraq of carrying out their activities or may issue a ban on dealing with them by most international companies because of its impact on these companies (directly or indirectly) governed by the interests of those companies, for example , it is prohibited to deal with certain companies specialized in marketing Iraqi oil.
The other danger is the inclusion of certain entities with the ban. These entities may be (individuals, companies or banks), as the American Treasury provides a list of specific names to prohibit dealing with them in dollars or it may freeze their assets, while noting that “the other possibility is to submit requests from the creditors to press for an immediate payment of their debts (countries or individuals) immediately, and here we point out that Iraq owes (28) billion dollars in foreign debt except for abhorrent debts (debts of Gulf countries) amounting to (41) billion dollars, and according to the United Nations agreement for the immunities of States and their Property from Jurisdiction in 2004, Article 21, Paragraph C of it , the immunity over the central bank reserve (currency cover) was realized.
In the event that the Iraqi government’s decision to withdraw Iraqi funds from the United States of America and deposit them in the banks of other countries , it will be of the same degree of risk, as global banks implement the decisions of the United States of America because of the direct and indirect effects on them, as well as most of the global banks are not ready to deal with Iraq because of the high degree of risk in it, it must be noted that all Iraqi payments are in the currency of the dollar, and accordingly, Iraq will lose the status of the conversion to other currencies (losses of the conversion difference).
Iraq is counting on oil as a primary resource for its financial budgets, which transfers its funds directly to the American Federal Bank, in the midst of an almost complete absence of its other revenues from the commercial, agricultural, industrial and other sectors, which do not supply the gross domestic product with anything to be mentioned.
Followers of the Iraqi issue believe that in the event of economic sanctions being imposed on Iraq, the economic blockade imposed on Iraq in the 1990s cannot be compared and how it is managed and the money needed to pay the obligations with the status quo of Iraq, which cannot withstand such shocks, as there is a big difference in numbers of the employees and then the salaries, as well as the existence of profitable industrial companies at the time that used their profits to cover the salaries, not to mention the «amount of documentary credits which most of it in dollars and to the presence of (14) billion dollars in sums reserved for the purpose of covering government sector imports and the guarantees of the Ministry of Finance. And the repercussions of the American threat to freeze the balance of Iraq in the American Federal Reserve Bank, which includes the deposited oil money and the catastrophic effects on the Iraqi economy, stressing that you do not venture into the economy of Iraq.
As for militarily, Iraq will lose a lot if the American forces leave Iraq, as Iraq comes in the forefront of the Arab countries that receive American aid, as it got 5.28 billion, 89 percent of which is for the military field. The United States is also the primary source of armaments for the Iraqi army, the counterterrorism service, federal police forces, and surveillance and espionage technologies for intelligence, and national security services.
The withdrawal will push the United States to proceed to study the possibility of cutting military aid to Iraq, as the United States is considering reconsidering military aid to Iraq if Baghdad decides to end the foreign presence on its soil. The American Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the State and Defense ministries discussed reducing the value of military aid by about $ 250 million, and reviewing other military and economic aid.
The newspaper revealed that the US Department of State’s Near East Affairs office submitted a request to the White House Administration and Budget Office, whether it could cancel the $ 100 million request for fiscal year 2021, due to the current situation in Iraq. A statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that a final decision had not been taken, but senior administration officials have ordered a review of the funds that may be held or reallocated in the event that Iraq requests the troops to leave the country.
And if Trump implements his decision to cut US military aid to Iraq, this will have repercussions on the structure of the military system, and adversely affect the completion of this structure and its rehabilitation, after being exhausted by the battles with the terrorist organization ISIS . In light of the budget deficit and the financial and administrative corruption that hangs over the formation of the state, its frameworks and interfaces, especially that Iraq’s accounts are protected in the American Federal Bank.
Almost all the countries of the “Gulf Cooperation Council” consider that the American forces in Iraq are the basis for the American military units hosting them on their soil, and a vital factor in defending themselves against Iran. And beyond of the framework of governments or elites, recent opinion polls in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other “Gulf Cooperation Council” countries have demonstrated that a feeling of resentment from Iran and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Tehran-backed parties such as Hezbollah and the Houthis is common throughout the Gulf. In recent years, Gulf support for Iraq has been hesitant and very scarce, despite American pressure. But after the latest decisive US action against Iran in Iraq, the prospects for more generous aid and the creation of stronger diplomatic ties improved.
Later this year, Gulf Cooperation Council countries are expected to start supplying Iraq with electricity to reduce its dependence on Iranian supplies. And at the appropriate time, if the United States remains involved in the events, Iraq may turn from a threat into a partner with other Arab allies in the region. If America withdraws, some governments and their people may view Iraq as a state affiliated with Iran even to a greater degree, whether because of its Shiite majority or because the possibility of the exit of main balance force . And the willingness of these governments to rely on US guarantees – already doubtful – will further diminish. All of this would increase the pressures felt by the countries of the “Gulf Cooperation Council” to satisfy Iran, which effectively means extracting an American defeat from the fountains of victory.
A US withdrawal would radically limit the ability of European forces to continue to train Iraqi counter-terrorism forces. For example, Germany and Canada have already announced that they intend to remove part of their small units due to insecurity at present, although France plans to stay in Iraq.
Conversely, if the United States improves its performance in Iraq – not only militarily but also politically and economically – the burdens are likely to be better shared with allies. In addition, the greatest objective of the western military presence in Iraq is to address some of the issues that have paved the rise of the terrorist organization ISIS, specifically insecurity, marginalization of the Sunnis, and the absence of economic development. This helps to understand why the European capitals responded with great caution to the assassination of Soleimani, by indicating his primary responsibility for the escalation and calling on all parties also to de-escalate in the next stage.
As for the winners from the American exit from Iraq, Iran and the terrorist organization ISIS are at the forefront. Iran has long sought to expel the United States from Iraq, with which it shares long land borders, for fear of being encircled by a hostile army, and therefore the United States, if it decides to withdraw in the wake of the strike against Soleimani, will provide Iran with a number of advantages to strengthen its position, in the short – Long term.
In the short term, the withdrawal will present a symbolic victory for Iran’s regional and global standing, where some believe that Soleimani’s killing has already led to this result : that in the wake of the anti-Iran demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon, and in the wake of Iran’s protests in November 2019 that resulted in a brutal crackdown against its own people , Soleimani’s killing that it helped the Iranian government to support its regional and local position. ”Thus, the withdrawal of the United States immediately thereafter, would likely prompt Iran to depict this as the Trump administration had left Iraq for fear of retaliation by Iran and its regional proxies, allowing it to claim victory over “The Great Satan” and then encourage its supporters.
As for the long term, the American withdrawal would allow Iran to expand its already large influence in Iraq, that the withdrawal of American forces would leave Iraq completely at the mercy of Iran, as it is certain that the absence of American forces and civilian advisors in the country will create a political vacuum in which Iran can maneuver on it. And that Trump’s abandonment of Iraq would leave it completely to the Iranian influence, and then Soleimani gives this kind of victory after his death, which the Trump administration had not previously gained while he was alive.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing is that Iran will have the opportunity to expand its military hegemony in Iraq amid the absence of American forces on the ground to act as a deterrent, in a way that is greater than what Tehran is already exercising of great control over the Iraqi army through the PMF, which operates as its local agent in Iraq The consequences of requiring US forces to leave may be dangerous for Iraq and may ultimately lead to the handing over of security control to pro-Iranian factions within the security services.
In addition to Iraq’s geostrategic and political value, this country is today considered one of the largest oil exporters in the world, with huge reserves in the long run. And if the US presence remains the same, the economies of the United States, Iraq, and the global economy will reap these benefits together. But if it leaves the United States, it will actually increase Iran’s control over the energy and huge financial resources, and prevent it from being used in Iraqi development projects in order to avoid sanctions and largely support its ambitions of hegemony.
As for the second winner from the exit of American forces from Iraq, the terrorist organization ISIS, where ISIS comes as the second potential beneficiary of the issue of the American withdrawal; Washington has helped a number of factions in eliminating ISIS elements in Iraq by the end of 2017, as the United States played the most important role In combating that terrorist group by providing the basic air and technological forces that helped undermine the capabilities of the fighting factions and tightening US control over Iraqi territory in return, and when considering the work of the American forces in the country at the present time as a deterrent against the possibility of ISIS returning again, in the event that the United States withdraw – at least in part – from Iraq, ISIS would dare try to re-establish regional control again.
In this context, “Stacy Petitjon” – Director of the Strategy and Doctrine Program at the American Rand Corporation – says: “Whether the American forces left Iraq or not, this attack that targeted Qasim Soleimani had already consequences for the impact on the American military operations against ISIS, which It has been paused to reinforce US defenses in anticipation of Iran’s anticipated reprisals, which could enable ISIS to reconfigure its combat networks to once again pose a serious threat to Iraqi security. ”
“Ben Conabel” – a retired US Navy intelligence officer and political expert at the aforementioned Rand Corporation – explains how the absence of the US presence in Iraq can gradually and continuously enhance the return of ISIS in the Middle East, where he stresses: “The impacts may be far-reaching Harmful to the American strategic interests, because the absence of any forces on the ground, nor the planes hovering over the air, will mean that the American forces will lose their ability to see and strike the targets of the terrorist organization ISIS in Iraq, and will affect the operations in Syria, which depend heavily on support from Iraq.
On the whole, the efforts made by the US administration and its allies to contain Iran’s regional ambitions and defeat ISIS completely appear to be threatened by any possible US withdrawal from Iraq; although this withdrawal is not certain, it seems increasingly likely with the Trump administration; and if it happens Indeed, Iran will undoubtedly move to take advantage of the power vacuum by tightening more control over both Iraqi political affairs and the military establishment, which will be portrayed as a symbolic victory for Tehran and its real strength. Moreover, the withdrawal will lead to an increase in sectarianism within the spectrum of Iraqi society, as well as the possibility of the return of ISIS, given that the withdrawal means the cease of efforts of the international coalition against the Islamic State due to the decline in US support in this regard. And although Trump has consistently expressed his desire to withdraw US forces from the Middle East, he should – at least for the time being – in favor of Iraq, the United States, and the entire region, not do so.
Iraqi Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies