What is the future of US-Iraq relations?
LONDON - Throughout Iraq’s protest movement, demonstrators have demanded an end to Iranian influence in the country and an antidote to corruption, unemployment and lacklustre public services.
But after the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi soil, many Iraqis added a new demand to the list: an end to US military presence.
Soleimani, who led Iran’s elite Al Quds force, died on January 3 in a US airstrike on his convoy as it touched down in Baghdad.
While some Iraqis celebrated the death of Soleimani, others – especially supporters of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) – were enraged. The reason is that Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMF leader who was also killed in the US strike, were influential Shia figure who took great risks to forward their cause.
The latest chapter in US-Iraq relations adds to a complicated history between the two countries that has gone through many ups and downs.
During the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, the US and the UK maintained friendly relations with the country, but that came to an abrupt halt when the monarchy was overthrown on July 14, 1958 and Abd al-Karim Qasim came into power.
As the new leader, Qasim took measures to protect oil wells, pumping stations and other-oil related facilities in Iraq. In December 1961, Qasim took many of the oil fields out of foreign hands, concerning the US. In the end, a coalition of Ba’athist and Arab nationalist officers and civilians overthrew Qasim, but that did not help improve ties with the US.
In the 1970s, the Ba’ath party went on a nationalisation drive and became a member of Comecon, the Eastern Bloc’s version of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) in 1975.
As the US feared that Iraq might become a client state of the USSR and gain access to the region’s resources, the US forged closer ties with Iran’s second and last monarch of the House of Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
This friendship came to an end in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini came into power.
From this point onwards, US-Iraqi relations were at their peak, particularly during the deadly and bloody eight-year Iran-Iraq War.
But the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait again strained US-Iraqi relations. The US did not support Iraq in the conflict the same way it had supported it against Iran.
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s attack against Kuwait was eventually met with hostility from the US. But it was not until after the September 11 attacks that Hussein faced the full wrath of the US.
The US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq saw the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives and triggered the growth of the US’s presence and influence Iraq.
The US troop withdrawal agreement in 2011 was a significant stepping stone for Iraq and although Iraq welcomed the escalation of US troops in 2014, the country’s parliament now believes it’s now time for foreign troop presence to end as soon as possible.
A resolution by the Iraqi parliament January 5 stated: “The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.”
As determined as the Iraqi parliament appears to be, Trump’s unwillingness to withdraw troops from Iraq and threats to impose sanctions on Iraq if they force the removal of US troops, has put Baghdad in a bind.
The Iraqi parliament’s struggle to end the US’s military presence has also fueled calls for Iraq to change its sectarian governance system that has dominated domestic politics since 2003.
Throughout history, the inner workings of the Muhasasa Ta’ifia system has been safeguarded and extended by US, Iranian and Saudi Arabian intervention.
Due to its sectarian and ethnic nature, the system has been accused of exacerbating civil strife, corruption and institutional weakness.
Some protesters have even indicated that they are willing to resort to military rule to restore the country’s stability and autonomy, Foreign Policy recently reported.
How feasible this path would be is unclear, but what is evident is that Iraqi people are growing disillusioned with foreign interference.