Where are American troops?
Amid news that the United States of America is recalling its troops from Syria following a decision by the White House that ISIS had been defeated, thus rendering America’s presence moot, reports have surfaced of a military reinforcement in neighboring Iraq.
Earlier this month (December) President Donald Trump claimed victory over ISIS, tweeting it was the “only reason” for U.S. troops to be there during his presidency. Trump’s tone was reassuringly boisterous, but experts debate the accuracy of such a proclamation as by the Pentagon’s own estimates there are still up to 30,000 active ISIS militants in Syria.
But if the U.S. is rolling back its presence in the Levant, the same cannot be said of Iraq – more to the point it is not being talked about at all.
A report from the BBC this late December puts America’s military presence in Iraq at about 5,000 men and women. This figure is now being contested by high ranking Iraqi officials, who I spoke with directly.
They advance that under the previous administration, and under the direct command of former Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, an excess of 20,000 U.S. troops would have entered Iraq on government-issued diplomatic visas.
While Iraq has long been home to several thousand American boots, the diplomatic immunity offered by such visas poses serious questions over Iraq’s future ability to challenge potential abuses or cases of misconduct.
In light of America’s track record in matters of war crimes, and subsequent U.S. administrations’ willingness to deflect guilt by invoking ‘necessity’ and matters of national security to justify ‘excesses’, several Iraqi officials – although still under the cover of anonymity, have expressed anger at the news.
Beyond a simple question of legal accountability and sovereignty, Iraqi officials fear such a development indicates a desire to once more pit Iraq against Iran, and exploit its geography to quench hawkish U.S. politicians’ thirst for yet another war, against yet another enemy: Iran.
Such sentiments were furthered reinforced by President Trump’s surprise visit to Iraq over the Christmas break. As noted Iraqi parliamentarian, Hakim Al Zamili said in an interview with Al Jazeera: “It is shameful for the Iraqi prime minister to accept Trump’s invitation after he made a mockery of the Iraqi government. He entered Iraq surreptitiously and without coordinating with the authorities with no respect for Iraq’s sovereignty.”
If Iraq values its friendship with the United States, it is unlikely Baghdad will sign off on any direct attack against its geopolitical partner and neighbor Iran.