The best laid plans of Iraqi operations will oft go awry, and … this will be no exception. Outgoing prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has asked Mike Pompeo to craft plans for a US withdrawal from Iraq, in reaction to a parliamentary vote last weekend requesting it. However, the caretaker PM doesn’t have the authority to execute it, and the US is not inclined to leave at the moment either:
Iraq has asked the United States to begin the process of planning the withdrawal of its troops from the country, five days after the Iraqi Parliament voted to end the longstanding American military presence there in the wake of the U.S. killing of Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said in a statement Friday that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call “to send a delegation to Iraq to put a mechanism [in place] for implementing the Iraqi parliament decision to safely withdraw troops from Iraq.”
This was, he said, because “Iraq is keen to keep the best relations with its neighbors and friends within the international community, and to protect foreign representations and interests and all those present on Iraqi soil.”
Correction: This is because Abdul-Mahdi is an Iranian tool, and even Iraqi Shi’ites have tired of him. He only remains in office until the Iraqi parliament can choose a new government, and the Shi’ites that once hoisted Abdul-Mahdi to power no longer want Iran dictating their internal politics. In that sense, the US did them a favor by removing the top Iranian enforcer, Qassem Soleimani, and served notice to the various militias that Soleimani controlled that the US would not hesitate to go after command-and-control assets, even Iranian ones, if they kill US personnel or attack our embassy again.
At any rate, the US is not inclined to deal with Abdul-Mahdi any longer:
— AFP news agency (@AFP) January 10, 2020
Statement on the US-Iraq discussions from the State Dept’s Morgan Ortagus: pic.twitter.com/bgIdJxcst2
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) January 10, 2020
In other words, the US is willing to discuss strategy and tactics, but not withdrawal. Especially not with Abdul-Mahdi.
CBS’ Holly Williams noted that the parliamentary vote was “non-binding,” albeit “hugely symbolic,” and that the demand wasn’t applicable to all US troops. They want US units training Iraqi security services to stay, for instance, and only want a pullback of combat units. Williams wonders whether the Iraqis are serious, or just “going through the motions.”
Iraq called on the U.S. to prepare for troop withdrawal.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 10, 2020
Best guess: going through the motions. If the Iranians want to distance themselves from Tehran, they will need the US to stick around a little longer as a counterweight. The next time we really do pack up and leave, we won’t come back, and they know it. That means no support for their security forces, no logistical command, and little organizing theory except along sectarian lines. The Kurds will likely object to that in the strongest possible terms and might be tempted again to play with a declaration of independence in the north, and the Sunnis in the west will likely throw back in with various Sunni extremist forces rather than allow themselves to be subjugated to the Shi’ites. It’ll be an open invitation for ISIS to return, in one form or another, and this time to actually sack Baghdad.
The Iraqis’ anger is not irrational, although it seems doubtful that it’s really about Soleimani. They’re angry over the targeting and killing of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi commander of an Iranian-allied militia, in the same strike as Soleimani. That’s also behind the threat from similarly Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to attack US forces in reprisal, although notably not the embassy this time. If it had just been Soleimani in the car, this might not have even risen to this level, especially since UN travel sanctions required Iraq to bar Soleimani from entry in the first place. The US could just as well demand that Abdul-Mahdi show us his plans for complying with UN-imposed sanctions on Iran as part of an exchange.
Prediction: Abdul-Mahdi will be long gone before American troops are in Iraq. And the Iraqis will be happier to see him leave than American troops, although they won’t dare admit it publicly.