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International Last Updated: Feb 6, 2024 - 2:52:50 PM

The sovereignty of Iraq
By German Foreign Policy, 08 Jan 2024
Jan 14, 2024 - 9:43:20 AM

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Baghdad demands withdrawal of US-led military coalition from Iraq following US drone killing of Iraqi militia commander. Bundeswehr units also affected.

The German Armed Forces are facing a possible forced withdrawal from Iraq. This situation follows last Thursday’s US drone assassination of the commander of an Iraqi Shiite militia. Responding to the attack, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani declared that he is determined to end the presence of the US-led military coalition in Iraq, which includes a Bundeswehr contingent. Unauthorised US operations on Iraqi territory such as the recent murder would, he said, no longer be tolerated. The foreign military presence has been under attack for years, especially from organisations of the Shiite majority, which include forces aligned to Iran. Western governments, on the other hand, insist on keeping units in Iraq, saying their troop deployments are legitimised by the ongoing fight against IS. A military presence is also seen as useful in the ongoing tussle over Tehran’s influence. The build-up of tensions is also occurring in the wake of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip. Any withdrawal would result in a significant loss of influence, also for Germany, in the Middle East.

Military presence in Iraq
The US-led military coalition which took part in the war against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria from 2014 still has troops stationed in Iraq today. The victory over IS as a territorial entity on Iraqi territory was celebrated with a large military parade in Baghdad on 10 December 2017. The fact that IS forces went underground and continued to operate served as an opportunity for the US and its allies to maintain an international military presence on Iraqi soil. The formats for this presence were, from June 2014, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), which is supported by a broad international coalition of states (known as Counter Daesh), and NATO Mission Iraq, which was established in October 2018. The United States continued to conduct combat operations on Iraqi soil for several years. Then, on 10 December 2021, US military officials announced that their coalition forces had just ceased combat operations in Iraq, but remain in the country to assist Iraqi security forces in their operations against IS, including air support.[1] As part of NATO Mission Iraq, soldiers from NATO countries have also been training units of the Iraqi armed forces and advising various Iraqi authorities.[2]

Up to 500 soldiers
The German Bundeswehr has played a role in these measures as part of Counter Daesh from 2015 and within NATO Mission Iraq from 2020. The mandate for this engagement in Iraq was last authorised and extended by the German Bundestag on 18 October 2023. It now runs until 31 October 2024 and allows the deployment of up to 500 German soldiers,[3] who are based in several locations. The contingent’s command is located at the Al Azraq Air Base in Jordan, where mission-supporting German tanker aircraft are also stationed. Some German soldiers take part in the planning at the Combined Air Operations Centre at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where the German tanker aircraft missions are also coordinated. In addition, there are German soldiers stationed in Baghdad and Erbil in northern Iraq. Their activities include support for training initiatives and other measures designed to build capacity in the Iraqi security forces. As for NATO Mission Iraq, a German brigadier general is among the senior commanders: Stephan Willer, with the job title Director Training Development Division, has operational experience from Bundeswehr missions in Kosovo (KFOR) and Afghanistan (ISAF).[4]

Power struggle against Iran
The call for foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq is nothing new. On 1 March 2018, the Iraqi parliament demanded that the government in Baghdad politely thank the foreign soldiers for their support in the war against IS and negotiate a timetable for their return home. The parliament emphatically repeated the demand two days after the US murder of the commander of the Iranian Quds Brigade, Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone on 3 January 2020 immediately after he had arrived at Baghdad airport.[5] The demands voiced by parliament were again ignored by the Iraqi government. It should be explained here that the Iranian-affiliated sections of the Shiite majority population are said to be the strongest supporter of demands for US-led foreign forces to leave their country. However, the Sunni minority and Iraqi-Kurdish organisations are thought to be generally in favour of a continued presence, not least to provide a counterweight against Iranian influence. Furthermore, as Iraqi Member of Parliament Saad al Saadi recently confirmed, the US and UK have been exerting considerable pressure behind the scenes on the Iraqi government not to challenge a military presence that helps to secure Western influence.[6]

Drone assassination in Baghdad
Since the Hamas massacre on 7 October and the subsequent start of the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, we have seen growing pressure on the government in Baghdad to finally enforce the withdrawal of US forces and the US-led military coalition. Meanwhile the clashes between Shiite militias, both in Iraq and Syria, and the US forces, are escalating. Reports put the number of attacks carried out by Shiite militias on American troops in Iraq and Syria at 136 between 17 October and 4 January. The United States has some 2,500 military personnel in Iraq and 900 in Syria. The report notes that US troops initially responded by firing on militia bases in Syria in order to avoid triggering massive protests in Iraq. In November, they switched to attacking isolated militia locations in Iraq, but spared the leadership. It was not until an attack on 4 January 2024?? that they specifically murdered a militia commander.[7] The drone assassination took out a commander of the Harakat al Nujaba militia, to which the Washington Institute for Near East Policy attributes 69 per cent of attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria since 17 October.[8]

“No more backing down”
Iraq's Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia al Sudani, has reacted to the assassination attempt with harsh criticism. Al Sudani announced that his government had “repeatedly emphasised” that only Iraqi authorities were authorised to intervene on Iraqi territory against violations of the law, such as the shelling of US positions.[9] He now reaffirmed his firm resolve to “end” the ongoing presence of the US-led military coalition in Iraq, as “the justification for its existence no longer exists”. His government therefore wants to enter into immediate negotiations with the United States to discuss troop withdrawal. This is considered “a commitment” on which Baghdad “will not back down”. It is a matter of regaining “complete national sovereignty over Iraq’s land, airspace and waters”.

The third involuntary withdrawal
Al Sudani’s announcement also goes for Germany’s armed forces stationed in Iraq as part of the US-led military coalition. If the Iraqi government is able to enforce its withdrawal demands, the Bundeswehr will have to involuntarily vacate a third theatre of operations, having had to leave Afghanistan and Mali. If Bagdad is unable to get its way, German soldiers will remain in Iraq against the declared will of the Iraqi parliament and, now, government. Both outcomes would amount to a further loss of German power in the Middle East.

 [1] Lolita C. Baldor, Robert Burns: General says US troops to remain in Iraq. militarytimes.com 10.12.2021.

[2] NATO Mission Iraq. nato.int 01.12.2023.

[3] Jordanien und Irak – CD/CBI. bundeswehr.de.

[4] Director Training Development Division. jfcnaples.nato.int.

[5] See also: An Assassination and its Consequences.

[6] Dana Taib Menmy: Growing divide in Iraq on continued US military presence as Israel’s war on Gaza persists. newarab.com 14.11.2023.

[7] Nancy A. Youssef, Michael R. Gordon: U.S. Killing of Militia Leader Marks Bid to Stop Attacks on Its Forces in Iraq. wsj.com 04.01.2024.

[8] Michael Knights: Who Are Nujaba and Why Did the U.S. Just Strike Them? washingtoninstitute.org 04.01.2024.

[9] Brad Dress: Iraq moving to remove US-led military coalition, prime minister says. thehill.com 05.01.2024.

Source:Ocnus.net 2024

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