Biden’s Iraqi Road

The White House opts for a withdrawal that maintains a military presence on the ground.

U.S. President Joe Biden has reached an agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, which means that by the end of the year, the U.S. military will no longer participate in any combat missions in the Middle Eastern country. In theory, the decision will close a cycle that began — with an interruption between 2011 and 2014 — with the 2003 invasion ordered by President George W. Bush.

The agreement is part of Biden’s strategy to end U.S. military involvement in wars that have been going on for almost two decades, the most important example being the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It should be noted, however, that the announcement about Iraq is more political than practical, because it is not a complete withdrawal — as in the case of Afghanistan — but rather consists of formally limiting the functions of the deployed U.S. troops. The U.S. currently maintains about 2,500 troops in Iraq and, in the words of the U.S. administration, the deployment may continue for “training and logistical assistance” that now form a large part of their functions.* To continue to remain on the ground, even without combat, has strategic value.

While this does not change much for Washington, the announcement is a victory for al-Kadhimi, who faces a general election in October that he can now go into with a victory over the more anti-American factions of the electorate.

Unlike Afghanistan, where complete withdrawal is causing a turnaround with the steady advancement of the Taliban, in this case there is not likely to be a very tangible change of scene with respect to neighboring countries. The continued military presence in Iraq will serve as a warning to Iran, a country that exerts great influence over an important part of the Iraqi political spectrum, as well as providing support for nearly 1,000 military personnel in Syria who are collaborating with the militias that oppose Bashar Assad’s regime, and who are also fighting against what remains of Islamic State.

The bottom line is that the U.S. still considers its military presence in the country to be strategic, but it will now take a less politically costly form for both Baghdad and Washington. In any case, Biden has opted for a clear message to the region that he is not abandoning Iraq altogether; a very different path than the exit from Afghanistan. The withdrawal from Afghanistan, after 20 years of operations, is perplexing because it leaves the way largely open for the Taliban and the setback in rights they represent.

*Editor’s Note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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About Stephen Routledge 102 Articles
Stephen is the Head of a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) in a public sector organisation. He has over twenty years experience in project, programme and portfolio management, leading various major organisational change initiatives. He has been invited to share his knowledge, skills and experience at various national events. Stephen has a BA Honours Degree in History & English and a Masters in Human Resource Management (HRM). He has studied a BSc Language Studies Degree (French & Spanish) and is currently completing a Masters in Translation (Spanish to English). He has been translating for more than ten years for various organisations and individuals, with a particular interest in science and technology, poetry and literature, and current affairs.

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