The United States and the Iraqi government are moving closer to an agreement that would keep U.S. forces in Iraq for a long time.
A very long time.
On May 5, the Associated Press reported that two anonymous government officials – one U.S., the other from Iraq – said there are currently negotiations to keep American troops there even after the end of the multinational campaign against Daesh.
The report aligns with what this column concluded last month: the U.S. government wants to provide an on-going military presence that will protect the effort to rebuild Mosul, thwart further insurgency, and stabilize the region.
The attitude can be summed up in a simple phrase now popular with the Trump administration national security team: The U.S. left Iraq too soon. The withdrawal of U.S. troops six years ago authorized under the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments led to political chaos and gave Daesh the opportunity to launch its insurgency.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and unnamed White House officials are negotiating future troop levels in the country. The AP said those discussions “point to a consensus by both governments that … longer-term presence of American troops in Iraq is needed to ensure that an insurgency does not bubble up again once the militants are driven out.”
According to the AP:
U.S. forces in Iraq would be stationed inside existing Iraqi bases in at least five locations in the Mosul area and along Iraq’s border with Syria, the Iraqi government official said. They would continue to be designated as advisers to dodge the need for parliamentary approval for their presence, he said.
He said al-Abadi is looking to install a “modest” Iraqi military presence in Mosul after the fight against the Islamic State group is concluded along with a small number of U.S. forces. The forces would help control security in the city and oversee the transition to a political administration of Mosul, he said.
The U.S. official emphasized that there were no discussions of creating independent American bases in Iraq, as such a move would require thousands more personnel. He said the troop levels would be “several thousand … similar to what we have now, maybe a little more.”
In the wake of this news, two questions come to mind.
Are the recent talks really the beginning of overtures by the Trump administration to increase troop levels in Iraq, particularly in the northern part of the country that is under Kurdish control?
Probably not. As long ago as February 19, Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met in Munich for what was called a serious discussion about Kurdish independence.
The delegation also included a group of U.S. senators mindful of what many Kurds consider a major betrayal of their cause by the United States: Then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s decision to withdraw American armed support for the Kurdish rebellion of 1975 against Saddam Hussein.
That left Iraqi Kurds in a terribly precarious position. After the onset of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, Saddam routinely ordered his military to attack or abduct Kurds, killing tens of thousands – including family members of Masoud Barzani.
Many of the senators vowed support for the Kurds.
“All we heard in the room was (the message) of support, and that the Kurds will not be abandoned again,” Kaka Hama, the nom de guerre of Muhammad Haji Mahmud, a senior Kurdish military commander, told reporters.
On March 6, Barzani said he received a letter of support from President Trump promising cooperation between the U.S. and the KRG.
“Donald Trump has stressed that we can jointly overcome obstacles, protect our shared interests, and secure peace, stability, and development, despite the many challenges lying ahead,” said a statement issued by Barzani’s office.
Barzani and the KRG won’t release the letter despite requests from the media.
This column asked the U.S. State Department to confirm that the letter was sent to Barzani and to release its contents. A State Department spokesman referred the request to the White House.
The White House did not respond to multiple requests to confirm the existence of the letter and release it to this column.
There’s no reason for the stonewalling and secrecy. It’s clear that the KRG and the United States have been discussing cooperation on various fronts – including their mutual military, diplomatic, and economic agendas – for quite some time.
Whether actual Kurdish independence occurs is problematic. However, the U.S. role as the protector state for the Kurds continues to grow – and that’s a role that will require military manpower to carry out.
What will the American people think of an increasing military mission in Iraq?
According to polling data, most Americans supported the drawdown of U.S. forces that commenced in 2011.
But a recent decision by the White House might take awareness of the number of U.S. forces in the Middle East off of the public opinion radar screen.
Recently, the Trump administration stopped disclosing significant details regarding the size and nature of U.S. deployments, including the number of U.S. troops sent to Iraq and Syria.
“In order to maintain tactical surprise, ensure operational security and force protection, the coalition will not routinely announce or confirm information about the capabilities, force numbers, locations, or movement of forces,” said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman.
So whether the increases are drastic or incremental, there will be no official word about U.S. troops sent to fight Daesh in the Middle East.
That is an untenable policy. In an age of readily available information on the Internet ranging from mil-blogs written by informed individuals to postings on social media, news of the size and mission of specific units will make its way into the media.
Besides, both Kurds and Americans will want to know about the U.S. soldiers who are in harm’s way. That information is vital to both the public debate regarding strategy and the people in both the United States and Kurdistan understanding the soldier’s mission.
But make no mistake: Both Iraq and the United States want U.S. forces in the region for the foreseeable future.
In other words, they want the troops there for a very long time.
Source: National Post