Iraqi Voices on US withdrawal from Iraq – including interview with Shia MIlitia Spokesman
The three interviews below, conducted by MECRA's Iraq correspondent, represent three different Iraqi responses to the prospect of US withdrawal from the country. The three interviewees come from opposing political sides - the pro-Iran Shia militias, the Kurdish Democratic Party, which has aspirations towards Kurdish independent statehood, and the 2019 protest movement.
Mahmood Al-Rubbiaai, Spokesperson of Political movement Al-Sadiqon, The political wing of the Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq movement (Iran-aligned Shia militia).
We believe that the Iraq-America strategic dialog is a naive game. The strategic dialog is over. It was Iraqi determination, when they rejected the presence of foreign forces in their land, which achieved this. The Iraqi parliament voted for this. Millions of Iraqis came out in Baghdad in demonstrations demanding the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
What has happened subsequently is only procrastination from which nothing will be gained. Iraqi and Islamic resistance determination brought about the US decision to withdraw from Iraq. We believe the Donald Trump Administration attempted to change the title from combat forces to advisory forces. Regarding that we have expressed our rejection of that decision. We have experiences proving to us that American combat or advisory forces will not result in anything.
For example, they spent 20 years in Afghanistan with combat and advisory forces and they ended up handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban. The US Army cannot be depended upon, and therefore in the Fatah Alliance, Sadiqon and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, we reject all kind of foreign forces in our land.
We also believe that for a new government established after the election of October 10th, its first mission must be to implement the Iraqi Parliament decision which is to remove all foreign forces on Iraqi land, achieving sovereignty and independence for Iraq. In reality, there was no need for a political, parliamentary or any new agreement with foreign forces because it is already clarified in previous contract agreements that Iraq will need the present of foreign forces only for training, consultancy and air-support. Nevertheless, it was cleared later on that there are combat forces on ground, which is against the law based on the Iraqi constitution plus parliamentary decisions and Iraqi will.
Besides, American forces committed many crimes against the Hashd Al-Shaabi (Shia militias) by bombing their military bases and killing our young fighters on the Syrian-Iraq border who were defending Iraq and preventing IS from entering the country. In addition, they bombed the Federal Police in Kirkuk airport and killed the leaders of victory (‘Qadat Al-Nasr’ - Muhandis/Suleimani) at Baghdad airport. They killed Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who was one of Iraq’s legal military leaders as chief of staff of the Hashd Al-Shaabi forces. In addition, Iraq’s official guest Al-Haj Qasim Sulaimani was killed in Iraq by the Americans. All these violations against the Iraqi constitution and law made us determined to end all presence of foreign forces in Iraq before the new year. The decision must be implemented otherwise we will use all resources we have to force them out.
The Iraqi parliament decision is very clear taking out all foreign forces in Iraq that will include all nationality without exception. We are talking about all foreign forces - France, Turkey, American, Danish, all other names - they all must leave Iraq. This is an Iraqi decision and a decision of the Muqawama (Resistance).
We will apply pressure in two ways - political and resistance (ie military). There is no truce between us and the Americans, but we are taking into account the current Iraqi situation due to elections and political movement. We do not want to destabilize the security situation.
Resistance factions and the Resistance Coordinating Body have decreased their attacks, but they are still targeting any foreign military movements in Iraq. Any foreign military movement will be considered against the law and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
There is no truce between us because a truce is an agreement between two parties. We have as resistance factions decided on our side to lower down the tempo of operations so as not to have an effect on the election atmosphere before the election.
Whatever the result of the election - there will not be any presence of foreign forces, and especially American forces in Iraq before the end of 2021. In order to achieve that we will use diplomatic, legal and resistance methods, as is known.
American has no options. In 2003-2012, America had military equipment and capabilities; they were ten times stronger than now. Moreover, we as resistance had less than we have now. But they could not defeat us. We were able to achieve sovereignty and independence for Iraq against the most powerful and strongest forces known in history. America knows very well, they cannot resist us; therefore, they will withdraw.
In political terms, we know that Iraq is not a priority on Biden's administration agenda. He went back in their agenda, and they are more focused toward China, Russia, and other regions. They do not have Iraq as a priority for them. Therefore, we do believe they will withdraw at the time we want, and it is very important.
The Americans want to extend their presence in Iraq, because they want to protect Israel’s security. Because, Iraq is the source of threat to Israel as the first and only threat to Israel. They want to cut the ‘Silk Road’ (Belt and Road Initiative) and cut the rebuilding process in Iraq to stop agreement with China. Nevertheless, they failed, so they will withdraw from Iraq.
The US has a presence in the Middle East; there are countries allied with America in the Gulf, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
In 2003 after three months in Iraq, the US realized that they could not stay in Iraq. They were expecting they will be warmly welcomed, but they did not know that Iraqis do not accept the presence of foreign forces in their land.
During eight years of their presence in Iraq, they were looking for an excuse to get out of Iraq. They do not want to stay in, but they want to play negative rule and destruction in Iraq. For example, Donald Trump complained that during the previous administrative Hillary Clinton and others created IS in the Middle East and Iraq. The Americans will continue their destruction but they certainly know they will not be successful.
My message to the US and the West, is that Iraq has a strategic location in the world, and it is the heart of the Middle East. If you are looking to advance your interest in Iraq far away from the Israeli interest then you have to withdraw from Iraq and build an economic relationship with Iraq based on mutual interest, respect and cultural exchange. We as a resistance (Muqawama) did not target your economic and political interests but we delivered many clear messages that we are against foreign forces in our land. Because we as a people reject domination and control but we are not an enemy of your people. American and British people are not our enemies, but the political system and policy should change.
Mahmood Othman, KDP Member, former Iraqi Parliament Member, former Peshmerga Commander
In my opinion, American forces should be withdrawn from Iraq. I never supported the presence of American forces in Iraq. They may have supported Iraqi forces in their fight against IS, but they did not provide a solution for Iraqi issues over the years. Issues such as relations between Erbil and Baghdad, and the Kurdish case with Turkey. They did not take any action against Turkish bombardments and their intervention into Kurdistan. They were silent against Iranian bombardments in Kurdistan. They were not useful for us and for Iraq. In my opinion, the sooner they are withdrawn, the better.
There is only one loss (negative side) re the American withdrawal. It will help to increase Iranian influence on Iraq and that will help Iran to dominate it. This will be bad for the region and for us. We are caught between these countries (USA-IRAN). Neither of them are working for Iraq’s interest in reality. We have become became the victim of conflicts between them in Iraq and Kurdistan as well.
In my opinion, it is better if Iraqi forces were to have cooperation between Kurds, Arabs, and all others. They should unite to defend their country and administrate it. They should not allow any external intervention such as Iran or USA intervention into their country. As soon as the US withdrawal takes place, Iranian intervention should also be opposed.
The US presence has had a more negative than positive effect for Kurdistan. They are working with Turkey while Turkey is bombing Kurdistan, and they are silent on that. They never acknowledged the rights of Kurds. They are always saying - you are a part of Iraq, and you have to solve your issues within the Iraqi framework. They never benefit the Kurds. They were negative with Kurds and their case. The US has many enemies, so as result of our relationship with the US, they will look at us as their enemies as well. For example, opening the biggest US consulate in Erbil will not be in the Kurdistan interest and it will make us lose many things.
It is not on the American agenda to secure rights for the Kurds. Nevertheless, they give military support from time to time. We as a nation have the right to live in freedom, it is our right to have an independent state in our land. Until today, I did not see that commitment from the USA. I have a very different opinion from other parties regarding the American presence in Iraq. Since 1975, I have worked with the Americans. And I deeply believe that the presence of the USA has had a negative side rather than positive.
I believe there will not be any role of US inside of Iraq in the future.
But as I said in the beginning - with American withdrawal there will be an increase and influence of the Iranian presence, in cooperation with the Hashd (Shia militias) in Iraq. The USA presence did not prevent the Iran and Hashd actions toward Kurdistan - as you have seen they attacked Kurdistan airport and other areas, and there was no response.
Biden's policy is that US forces should not remain in any countries where it will create issues. Indeed, Iraq is one of these countries. Therefore, they wish to gradually decrease their presence in order to prevent any conflicts. They gave a promise and commitment to do so.
I believe there will not be any role of US inside of Iraq in the future. They will give Iraq to Iran very fast. The same thing that happened in Lebanon and Syria - they gave it all to Iran. They will do that as they did to Afghanistan - after 20 years eventually they left it to the Taliban. We cannot trust them (Americans), and we should not depend on them. There will not be another Afghanistan crisis here, we do not have Taliban. However, if the US withdraw, with the current balance of forces in Iraq dominated by the Shia majority Shia, there will be an increase of Iranian influence, and it will not be good for Iraq.
Kitab Al-Mizan – Iraqi political analyst and activist in 2019 protest movement
We are in favor of eventual US withdrawal and withdrawal of all other foreign forces including the Iranian intervention into Iraq. We are against any kind of intervention into Iraqi matters. However, we are in favor of normal relationship in different aspects - political, military and economic in the region and in the world. Boycott does not benefit any side. There is a real fear of Iraq and the Middle East and its ethnicities. There are leaders who consider these areas as dangerous areas.
Uncontrolled guns with different kind of militias will be more focusing in these areas (after US withdrawal) and they will use the excuse of ‘normalization with Israel’ for their activities.
Foreign backed militias now use the excuse of US forces present in Iraq, but after their withdrawal, they will focus on the issue of normalization with Israel. The real fear is the security vacuum that the Americans will leave behind. The government role should be to take an opportunity from this to bring under control the uncontrolled guns and militias before the Americans leave. After the government has achieved that, we will not need the American forces anymore.
Nevertheless, there are weapons (militias) supported by Iran, and supporting its ideology. They are under the supervision and administration of Guardianship of Islamic Jurist in Tehran Iran (Wilayat Al-Faqih – ie Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei). They will come to control the vacuum that the Americans will leave. Externally backed-militias will replace the American forces. The Americans created these political conditions with the promised democracy in Iraq.
We are therefore not in favor of the American withdrawal from Iraq at the present time. Iraq is not ready in security aspects because of the externally backed militias and IS. As a result they will come to control the entire of Iraq eventually and this could lead to the fall of the Iraqi state after the withdrawal of the US from Iraq.
The alternative to withdrawal - first we have to strengthen the state,and the military and security sectors, and resolve the issue of these militias and their uncontrolled weapons.
The Iraqi government is already controlled by externally backed militias. If the US withdraws from Iraq they will totally control the Iraqi state. We have to take advantage of the US presence in security, economy and other fields before they leave us. We have to benefit by strengthening Iraqi governmental sectors through real partnership with the US.