The US Pulling out of Three Key Bases in Iraq as the Wheel Turns Full Circle Showing the Folly of Removing Saddam
In 2003 President Bush took the fateful decision to remove Saddam Hussain the dictator of Iraq. At that time 177,194 US troops and allies supported by overwhelming airpower attacked Iraq. The aim was simple to overthrow Saddam Hussain who was accused of having weapons of mass destruction(WMD). Now we know there were no WMD and aim was basically to overthrow Saddam Hussain and execute him. President Bush and his advisers thought that if this happens, Iraq will be in the pocket of the United States and be an ally for the next 3 to 4 decades. They were apprehensive of Iran and thought that Iraq with a friendly government would be the stick with which to beat the Iranians.
One can now think that all these plans were based on quicksand and sank within a decade and a half. The United States has become persona non grata in Iraq so much so that the Iraqi Parliament has passed a resolution asking for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
The American think tank failed to appreciate that Saddam Hussein was a Sunni who was ruling over a majority Shia community. The Americans facilitated the return to power of the Shia majority and one fails to understand how a simple logic that one Shia will support another was not visible to the American think tank. Iran is the leading Shia power in the world and inevitably the Shia government of Iraq has forged close ties with Iran. The Americans thus becoming outsiders in Iraq and unwelcome as well. The initial euphoria of fighting ISIS with the help of the Americans has gone with the wind and now the Shia majority who are allied with Iran have completely sidelined the United States.
The United States hung on tenaciously in Iraq with eight bases but it is a moot point as to how long they could continue. The writing is on the wall and the Americans have now decided to vacate three bases in North Iraq and hand them over to the Iraqi army. It may be a bitter pill for the American army and many in the US general staff must be wondering as to what they gained by removing Saddam Hussein. I am afraid it is nothing but the boot.
The build up to Vacation
The decision to vacate three out of their eight bases in Iraq is a sign that the Americans have decided to throw in the towel. The decision comes at a time of heightened tensions with the Iraqi government and Iran. A short ceremony will take place this week at al- Qaim and the US Army will formally hand over the equipment to the Iraqi army. This will mark the end of US presence along the Iraqi side of the border with Syria.
This base is important as it was the first area that fell at the end of the Islamic State group in 2014 and was also the last taken back by the Iraqi forces in 2017. The defeat of ISIS should have been a Godsend and American influence would have increased but unfortunately, the reverse has happened. Irani backed militia groups took control of both sides of the border. The entire area is now under the control of the popular mobilisation forces PMF.
One of my friends who had been to the base in 2017 had observed that both Iraqi and US flags were seen flying and there seemed to be a semblance of cooperation between the Iraqi army and the US Army. But in 2018 the picture has changed and only one flag was flying on the base as it was taken over by the US Army. Outside the base, the entire area was controlled by the PMF who made their opposition to the presence of the US troops in Iraq clear. All over photographs of Iran's supreme leader were displayed and sadly US troops who had to reach the base had to pass through check posts manned by the PMF.
The US killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani who was the head of the IRGC and Abu Mahdi the deputy commander of Iraq PMF soured matters further
This had its repercussions and lead to a vote in Iraq's parliament to expel foreign forces specially the Americans from the country. The American control on this base was at the best tenous and therefore a decision was taken to also withdraw from the Qayara airfield best known as Q-West and Kirkuk. Both these bases were repeatedly hit by rocket attacks in recent months and on 20th December a US contractor was killed at Kirkuk.
The US retaliated with airstrikes and 25 people were killed as the US blamed the attack on the Kataib Hezbollah. But it was neither here nor there and it is on record that since October 2019, 160 individual rockets have hit US bases. Such things do not happen to a friend and the Americans were claiming they were the friends of Iraq.
Retreat from Iraq
What is going to happen now? The official number of US troops in Iraq is estimated at 5200. There is no doubt that with the influence of Iran on the Iraqi government the days of these troops are numbered. The United States is hoping that the US will be able to maintain some ties with the Iraqi army. This again appears to be a pipedream as a Joint Operations Command Control Centre for all military activity in Iraq has issued a statement backing the Iraqi Parliament resolution asking the Americans to leave.
This is a bitter pill for the Americans and I hope that it has dawned on the American think tank that they must look beyond their nose. The past cannot be put back but it is important to learn from it. One wonders if President Bush and his stooge John Major had been apprised appropriately and a gaming scenario created as we do in Staff College,s then the present scenario would have been averted.
This is the time when America needs a farsighted president. Maybe the time has come for a Roosevelt to emerge. Successive defeats in Afghanistan where again the Americans are negotiating with a terrorist organization and now Iraq makes many people lose confidence in America.