Baghdad Retakes the Reins

It’s time to forget Western paternalism and for the United States to accept the consequences of its official and covert actions.

The Middle East never leaves the media spotlight. Unfortunately, and undeservedly, it cannot detach itself from the economic, military and geopolitical interests of the major powers. Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, many have been concerned about the American leader’s unpredictability when it comes to foreign policy decisions. On top of his well known friendship with Saudi Arabia, his poison darts aimed at the Palestinians, and his disastrous withdrawal from northern Syria leaving the Kurdish population in the lurch, there are the destabilizing actions in Iran and Iraq these past few weeks.

The nuclear deal with Iran took effect at the end of Barack Obama’s term, and Trump quickly announced that he would strike it down. With his usual errant and imprecise attitude, he has subjected Iran to uncertainty and a possible setback over the past two years. Last December, American troops attacked an Iranian militia on Iraqi territory. Adding to the affront, this week a bombing commanded by American troops took the life of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, considered the second most powerful man in Iran after the ayatollah. How do these events relate to the situation in Iraq?

A Conflicted or Antagonistic Relationship

Historically, Iran and Iraq have had a conflicted or antagonistic relationship. At the end of 1979, in the middle of the Cold War, Iraq began to be governed by Saddam Hussein of the socialist Baath party, while Iran lived through a revolution against the dynasty of the shah and established the Islamic Republic. Therefore, the political future of both countries would develop in different ways. While Saddam governed according to socialist pan-Arabist principles, in Iran, the regime of the ayatollahs would take power.

Despite having fought each other in a war for eight years, the two countries have maintained cordial relations since the 90s due to their significant commercial interests. This explains why, following the killing of Soleimani, the Iraqi parliament controversially voted to force foreign troops to withdraw from the country.

The vote urges the government to draw up the final text, which will be voted on again in parliament. Trump has already threatened sanctions and repercussions if it goes ahead. The key to understanding the current scenario inevitably has to do with the substantial economic interests that the military presence in the region entails.

In 2014, faced with the advance of the Islamic State in the region, the still fragile Iraqi government invited foreign troops to help them defend the population. It was more of a symbolic gesture. American troops had been present in the country since the 2003 invasion, which was followed by the war that led a coalition of countries to establish themselves in Iraq and take the life of Saddam. It was never shown that there were weapons of mass destruction, but the coalition took advantage of the circumstances to secure its positions, deploy troops, and coordinate the arrival of several private businesses and mercenary contractors.

In Iraq, as in Afghanistan, some countries have built patronage networks that, instead of helping and supporting the development of the region, guarantee that their economic interests are protected. So, if the Iraqi decision to expel foreign troops is confirmed, the countries that have simply deployed official troops under the bilateral agreement will not be concerned about Baghdad wanting to retake control. However, those powers that have taken advantage, promoted unofficial economic and trade expansion, and established businesses and agreements on the margins of the main agreement will be worried about the end of their source of profit.

The international community, so reviled by populist, individualist and isolationist leaders recently, must take a step forward. There is no situation that requires the presence of foreign troops, and if there is, Baghdad can request help from within the framework of the United Nations. International principles dictate that all states are sovereign and that the presence of foreign troops must come only at the request of each country or if the population is at risk. As a club of nations, the U.N. should unequivocally support Iraq’s decision. All countries should be able to decide and manage how they are governed as long as they do not harm their populations. Iraq should be able to retake the reins without Western paternalism, and the United States should accept the consequences of its official and covert actions. It remains to be seen what methods it will use to punish dissidents, and if the rest of the countries in the world will look the other way.

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