Baghdad - Washington: The Anxious Relationship

I'm an image! 2021 / 05 / Apr

Baghdad - Washington: The Anxious Relationship


Salem Mashkor

Eighteen years have passed since the fall of Saddam's regime at the hands of the American forces, and the nature of Iraqi-American relations has not yet been determined, and Iraq has not reached clear relations that enjoy the satisfaction of both sides, not to mention the various Iraqi political forces in their position on this relationship.


The position on Iraq has undergone a major change, to the extent that the Iraq file has been described in Washington as a "headache file". The change began during the last two years of George Bush's second term, when the pillars of his term began to express their "frustration" with the outcome of the Iraqi politicians' attitudes toward Washington.

After the Democrats came to the White House, under the administration of Barack Obama in 2009, the priority of the Iraqi file in Washington clearly declined, especially after the completion of the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in 2011. The withdrawal of forces was against the background of criticizing the occupation of Iraq as a "republican" step that cost the United States a lot, and they viewed the Iraqi political class as a product of Republican policy. The truth is that the Republicans are the owners of the war project and the overthrow of Saddam's regime. They were - and still are - considering Iraq as one of their important files, which they saw as neglected by the Obama Democratic administration. However, the Obama administration dealt with the Iraqi file with disregard, for reasons related to a state of general distrust in Washington in Iraqi politicians, as well as the position of the Democrats on the war, their style that is distinct from the Republicans in managing foreign policy, and the way they approach hot files in the world. And since the American proverb says that the man means "A man is a policy", which is a reference to the impact of the decision-maker's personality on the policies he implements, the American dealings under the Obama administration derived its content from the personality of the president, who many of those close to him reported that he was bad-sighted. To the Arabs in general, based on certain historical incidents, in exchange for his admiration for Iran and its deep civilization, which explains the informal rapprochement with Tehran and the rush in the negotiations that ended with the signing of the nuclear agreement and the release of Iranian balances in American banks. As for Iraq, the US dealt with it on the basis that it was attached to Iran and did not need a policy of its own. However, the expansion of "ISIS" and its entry into Iraqi territory provided an opportunity for the return of direct American engagement with the Iraqi file, even if the matter focused on the military level, after the return of thousands of soldiers and advisors to be stationed in military bases from which it does not intend to leave. Political engagement, in both its declared and unannounced parts, continued, but at a slower pace than before, especially at the time of elections and the formation of governments.


Trump and his Republican administration

With Trump's arrival to the White House as a representative of the Republican Party in 2017, it was believed that the American interest in the Iraqi issue would return to its previous era, but Trump's statements during his election campaign and his repeated disdain for Iraq and the Iraqis gave negative indications that his move to contact Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the time as the first external contact could not correct. But the Republicans left an imprint on his Iraqi policy when they attached his great openness to the Saudi leadership and his billionaire deals with the Kingdom, with a new direction that produced a change in its policies towards Iraq. One of the neo-conservative theorists, "Michael Rubin," said before Trump assumed the presidency that the message they will deliver to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is, "Enough of limiting the relationship to the Sunnis and the Kurds, and we must open up to the Shiites of Iraq." After that, change really began, coinciding with an internal Saudi policy of restricting security and religious symbols whose name was associated with a Saudi policy of support for terrorist groups in Iraq and the region. Indeed, the booby-trapped cars that were exploding in large numbers daily in Baghdad have disappeared, which is what the Saudi ambassador to Baghdad called the "new equation" at the time. However, the Saudi openness to the Iraqi Shiites included part of the Shiite arena, which prompted some politicians to view this development as an attempt to divide this arena. And if this openness included parties trying to distance themselves from Iran, with the exception of those accused near it, then it is clear that it was not far from a new American policy to besiege Iran that the American administration did not hide, especially since it was accompanied by a set of measures and sanctions to strangle Iran economically and was required of Iraq to participate in it, based on the consideration that the Iraqi arena constitutes an outlet for Iranian politics. In addition, the American military presence, which Trump used to raise the slogan of ending, withdrew from it after his visit to the Ain al-Assad base at Christmas, and said that he would not leave it because he needed it in the face of “countries in the region,” referring to Iran. Ministers, assistants, and advisors who previously worked in Iraq after 2003 contributed to drawing this conviction, as well as the Republican Party's general strategy in the foreign field. The war against ISIS witnessed the continuation of the American military role in Iraq until its defeat in 2017, but part of the American military effort during and after that war was preoccupied with the issue of the emergence of irregular combat forces that were formed as soon as ISIS entered Iraqi territory, and it was an opportunity to build a new combat force outside the system. The traditional Iraqi security bore the name of the popular crowd, which raised concerns The American side against the backdrop of accusing the factions that formed this crowd near Iran. Although the fight against "ISIS" witnessed in some of its aspects coordination - albeit through the official Iraqi channel - between the international coalition forces formed by the United States, headed by the United States, and the Popular Mobilization Forces. The US at times, and Israel, but with the knowledge and assistance of the US forces at other times. The crowd forces also accused the US forces of supporting "ISIS" groups on the battlefield, despite their declared war against this organization. Later, the former Prime Minister, Dr. Haider al-Abadi, admitted in a television interview after leaving the government that, saying that "America was not fighting ISIS, but rather was running the war against it." From all of these data, we see that the Iraqi file under the Trump administration continued to deal with it as a file linked to the Iranian file, and to varying degrees.

Return of the Democrats:

Joe Biden returned to the White House in 2021 as President of the United States after two terms during which he was Vice President Barack Obama. Although he was responsible for the Iraqi file from which Obama distanced himself, he did not mention Iraq during his election campaign, unlike Iran, which reiterated his intention to return to the nuclear agreement that was his godfather in the Obama administration, and despite the relief caused by Trump's loss of the elections among large sectors of society. Iraqis who were afraid of increasing his pressure on Iraq to drag it into a front besieging Iran and the damage that would cause to Iraq as it is one of the arenas of conflict between Iran and America. However, Biden's victory revived fears in Iraq about his adoption of the project to divide Iraq that he proposed in 2006, although he did not He is mentioned throughout his years as Vice President. So far, there are no indications of an Iraqi policy in the White House, except for what is related to Iran and its influence in the Iraqi arena.


One of the paradoxes of the Iraqi political arena is the sharp changes in the map of the Iraqi forces' relations with the United States of America. At the moment of the overthrow of Saddam's regime by the US army, the Iraqi arena was divided in its stance towards Washington, as the majority of the Shiites and Kurds stood in the ranks of those who welcomed the American presence, as it overthrew a regime that had worked hard to abuse these two components, which make up the majority of the population in Iraq, while the Sunnis stood against the American occupation. The overthrow of the regime it produced was classified in their category due to the exclusion of the other two components from the composition of the previous regime and its abusive policies towards them. Sunni armed groups waged operations against the US forces under the name of resistance and obtained support from neighboring countries. It is in their interest not to restore security and stability in Iraq, especially after US statements were issued about the intention to move after Iraq, towards countries such as Syria and Iran. The operations of these groups were not limited to the American presence, but rather targeted those they considered loyal to the occupation. However, the map of relations began to change with the start of armed Shiite groups taking military action against the American forces, which prompted the American side to move towards the Sunni political forces to win them over, and the beginning was meetings held between American generals with representatives of Sunni armed factions in Istanbul in 2005 after messages conveyed by Iraqi politicians to the administration The Americans show the willingness of those forces to negotiate with the American side. The American administration had begun its operations to overthrow Saddam's regime, based on the conviction that the Iraqi Shiites would be its allies after getting rid of Saddam, but the Americans were shocked when Shiite groups began armed action against them, while demands rose for the American withdrawal from Iraqi lands, and the direction of most of the Shiite political forces and figures to Iran While a few of them remained trying to reconcile their relations between Iran and the United States, as for the Kurdish side, it continued allied relations with the American side, and the regions of the Kurdistan region were and still are the most secure for American forces and institutions. The insistence of the Iraqi side (with its Shiite majority), and in the person of the Prime Minister at the time, Mr. Nuri al-Maliki, on the withdrawal of American forces, and the celebration of the day of withdrawal and calling it the “second twentieth revolution”, had negative repercussions in Washington, where al-Maliki had previously witnessed a warm reception in 2006 and had a speech before Congress whose members were standing applauding after every syllable of his speech. In the following years, the American embassy in Baghdad was subjected to more missile strikes, while American policy was moving - from the point of view of some Iraqis - towards fighting the crowd and curtailing it in various ways. At this time, the American relations with the Iraqi Sunni arena were developing until their demand became that the American forces remain in their bases, which shrank from the areas of the Shiite majority and swelled in the western regions. The largest of these bases has become Ain al-Assad, which was hit by Iranian missiles shortly after the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, along with the leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was receiving him at Baghdad airport in early 2020. This process moved the Shiite parliamentary blocs towards issuing a parliamentary decision to remove the American forces from Iraq, and the Sunni and Kurdish representatives did not attend the voting session on the decision. The successive Iraqi governments did not move towards establishing a clear-cut relationship with the American side. Iraq did not witness a national dialogue to agree on a clear formula for the relationship. It is strange that the American capital is devoid of any tangible Iraqi movement towards the decision-making institutions and drawing up the policies of the American administration, whether through the Iraqi embassy, which suffers from permanent weakness, or dealing in the manner of the lobby that has legal status in Washington and to which most foreign embassies resort to in order to influence Policymaker in the American capital. Countries spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in this way, while the Iraqi embassy contracts with a modest company for only one million dollars annually, without this company doing anything but worthless matters such as arranging a meeting with former US President George HW Bush, or publishing articles in American newspapers. Before each visit of an Iraqi prime minister to Washington.

What is remarkable is that Iraqi officials do not see the importance of the move in Washington believing (indeed, more than one of them stated to the author of the article) that the real communication takes place directly between the US embassy in Baghdad and the Iraqi government. They are ignorant of the fact that the embassy is implementing a policy drawn up in Washington and that influence on this policy must come from within America.

The question about the future of the relationship with Washington requires asking many questions about what Iraq wants from Washington, and what must be done to reach normal, stable and beneficial relations for Iraq. And whether Iraqi politicians are aware of the nature and mechanisms of work inside America?

The beginning is for those concerned to realize that Iraq needs to reach a unified position regarding the relationship with the United States, and that relations between countries are based on mutual interests only, which requires creating interests for America in Iraq. Before all this, it must be known that the relationship with Washington is not limited to the options of dependence or hostility.