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2021-07-26t185033z_633639167_rc2iso90h8pu_rtrmadp_3_usa-iraq-2-scaled

Biden isn't withdrawing troops from Iraq, he's relabeling their mission

The move only serves to reinforce America’s forever wars.

Analysis | Middle East

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Biden  announced this week that Washington will end its combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year. However, these long-serving U.S. soldiers are not coming home: many of the 2,500 American service members are expected to remain in the country for “training and advisory” purposes.

The United States and Iraq had issued a joint statement in April that the U.S. combat mission would be ending, but the timeline remained unclear. The timing of the recent announcement appears intended to boost Kadhimi’s prospects in October’s parliamentary elections — he faces domestic demands to oust U.S. forces, yet remains dependent on American support to maintain some semblance of control. 

Many of the militia groups he now struggles to control initially assembled to fight the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, starting in 2014. The Popular Mobilization Forces, or al-Ḥashd ash-Shaʿbī, many of whose fighters are Iraqi Shi’a, were supported by both the U.S. and Iran to defeat the  Islamic State. The mobilization of these militias would not have been necessary if Paul Bremer and the Pentagon had not made the foolish decision to disband Iraq’s military following the U.S. invasion in 2003, as Iraq would still have possessed a functional army.

Washington clearly bears significant responsibility for the ongoing instability and dysfunction in Iraq, a fact that the announcement of $155 million in additional humanitarian aid for Iraq seems implicitly to acknowledge. Yet the U.S. military has consistently botched its missions in Iraq — keeping them in the country is in the interests of neither Americans nor Iraqis.

Renaming the stated goal of U.S. troops in Iraq will have little effect on their vulnerability to attack. Iraqi militia groups determined to evict U.S. troops from their country are increasingly acting without or against orders from Tehran. Ironically, Iran’s control of Iraqi militia groups unraveled following the assassination of Quds Force Commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Attacks on American forces have increased at a time when Tehran and Washington are attempting to negotiate a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Announcing a troop withdrawal when no troops are in fact to be withdrawn reinforces a broader alarming trend in the forever wars — finding ways to keep American soldiers perpetually deployed, despite the public’s desire for the United States to prioritize investment at home over violence abroad.

Even more concerning are the expanding budget and scope of Pentagon’s “127e” programs, created after 9/11 to provide “support to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating authorized ongoing military operations by United States special operations forces to combat terrorism.”

These “exceptional” and highly secretive counterterror deployments operate with very little public, congressional or DOD oversight

The budget of 127e programs has quadrupled since 2005, from $25 million to $100 million annually. These funds are exempt from U.S. human rights conditions, like the “Leahy laws,” which bar the United States from backing foreign units credibly accused of gross abuses.

As became evident with the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger in October 2017, these unauthorized 127e advisory operations pose a serious risk that combat-equipped U.S. forces will become involved in firefights. 

The takeaway should be that, although a U.S. “advisory” mission in Iraq may sound harmless, it maintains the strong likelihood that U.S. forces will be shot at and will shoot back. 

When Prime Minister al-Kadhimi came to power in May, he was seen as representing the rejection of overt Iranian influence over Iraq, a sentiment also expressed in widespread protests throughout Iraq starting in October 2019 that demanded an end to both Iranian and American intervention, as well as rampant government corruption. He faces a nearly impossible task, which is made more difficult by the ongoing attacks that are likely to continue as long as U.S. forces remain in his country’s territory — relabeled, or not.

U.S. President Joe Biden listens to Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
Analysis | Middle East
Labour's delusions about UK foreign policy

British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and British Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy walk in Westminster, London, Britain, February 22, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Nicholson

Labour's delusions about UK foreign policy

Europe

When it comes to foreign and security policy, the new British Labour government has inherited a very bad hand from its predecessors, which it would take great skill to play with any success. Unfortunately, judging by its statements so far, not only does the new administration lack such skill, it is not even sure what game it is playing.

With the partial exception of policy towards the EU, it does not in fact appear that Labour policy will differ significantly from that of the Conservatives. Nor indeed can it differ, if it is determined to go on operating within the very narrow parameters laid down by the British foreign and security establishment. The unconditional allegiance of this establishment to the United States makes even thinking about British national interests difficult, if not impossible.

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Menendez's corruption is just the tip of the iceberg

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) looks on, following his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York City, U.S., July 16, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Menendez's corruption is just the tip of the iceberg

QiOSK

Today, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) became the first U.S. senator ever to be convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. While serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez ghost-wrote a letter and approved arms sales on behalf of the Egyptian regime in exchange for bribes, among other crimes on behalf of foreign powers in a sweeping corruption case. An Egyptian businessman even referred to Menendez in a text to a military official as “our man.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Menendez was engaging in politics for profit. "Because Senator Menendez has now been found guilty, his years of selling his office to the highest bidder have finally come to an end,” he said.

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European parliament takes a hard line on Iran

France, Strasbourg, 2023-12-13. Member of the European Parliament Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance Hannah Neumann in the Meeting of European Parliament Plenary session - Council and Commission statements - European Defense investment program (EDIP). Photograph by Genevieve Engel via REUTERS

European parliament takes a hard line on Iran

Europe

As Iran’s president-elect Massoud Pezeshkian is sending messages about his readiness to reengage with the West, the newly elected European Parliament seems to be moving ever further in a hawkish direction. That can be concluded from the appointment of the German Green Party lawmaker Hannah Neumann to chair the EP’s delegation to Iran in the assembly. Save for a major, and unlikely, upset, she’ll be formally endorsed in that position when the body reconvenes after its summer recess.

According to European Parliament rules, the task of inter-parliamentary delegations is to maintain and deepen relations with the parliaments of non-EU countries. Delegations are not the most influential bodies in the EU but they can offer a valuable channel of communication with third countries, particularly in cases when official relations are strained, as is the case with Iran. Or, alternatively, they can become a forum for ventilating grievances against those countries, thus contributing to shaping negative narratives and creating a political climate detrimental to productive diplomacy.

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