Why has America withdrawn from Iraq and Lebanon?

US forces in Iraq (Photo by Adobe).

Ahmad Abdel-Rahman looks at the changing relationship the US has with Iraq and Lebanon. 

Iraq has been a target and a focus of American attention for decades. America chased and besieged Iraq when it invaded Kuwait, then destroyed its regime in 2003 and appointed a military ruler before it established a local authority there that was controlled by Iran's supporters. Then, analyses emerged of collusion between Washington and Tehran to hand over Mesopotamia to Iran.

These analyses may not be accurate. Yet, the American invasion of a country that waged a long war against the mullahs' regime established the hegemony of that regime over Iraq. A series of interventions took place that were based on sectarian divisions, especially the size of the Shiite community, which has significant power in Iraqi society.

The US administration, led by President Barack Obama, did not show a serious interest in the countries that it occupied. It only wished to democratise them, according to statements from Washington. Military withdrawal became a goal for the US while former Iraqi prime minister (from 2006 to 2014), Nuri al-Maliki, used his sectarianism and strong loyalty to Iran, to hand over Mosul and large parts of the country to the terrorist organisation, ISIS. This gave a new impetus to Iranian intervention and the establishment of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of approximately 67 different armed factions.

Although the US effectively contributed to the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, it left the countries open to Iran entering them. Today, Iran is in a political crisis. Iran has also refused to submit to the will of the Iraqi voters - the same voters who gave Iraqi cleric and politician, Muqtada al-Sadr, a parliamentary majority in the elections and interacted strongly against his rising unpopularity in the fall of 2019. Hence, the democracy that the US has long heralded in Iraq seems unlikely. But where is America in all this and what does it want?

Where is America now?

David Schenker, former US assistant Secretary of State, has asked why America is absent from the developments in Iraq in an article published by The Washington Institute. In that article Schenker asks: "The absence of a high-level US administration's involvement in Iraq's attempts to form a government after the elections was not an unintended omission, but rather a premeditated decision." He also says: "Public records show that senior officials in the State Department and the National Security Council have only visited Iraq twice."

In contrast, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Ismail Quaani, has visited Iraq no less than 10 times in recent months. By so doing he could gather his allies and threaten opponents. The US also designates The Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.

Although America does not operate in the same way as the commander of the Quds Force, it has many military, political, financial and economic capabilities to maintain stability in the country and prevent it from again slipping into self-destruction.

The US relationship to Lebanon

What is said about the US administration's behaviour towards Iraq can also be said about its behaviour towards Lebanon. In 1983, the last American attempt to have a military presence in Lebanon ended with suicide bombers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Since then, American influence in this country has been declining. Its political parties and sects have also become increasingly confused, and various forms of foreign influence have grown, most notably, over the past two decades.

In the harshest moments of international division, Lebanon managed to maintain a balance between the Soviet Union and the West. Nevertheless, Lebanon is now classified as being under Iranian influence. Its land is also seen to be a central platform for Iranian expansion projects in the region.

The majority of Lebanese do not agree with this classification. This was expressed in the 2019 uprising and then the government elections. However, getting out of the political and economic impasse that Lebanon is now in seems impossible while the Iranian alliance's grip on the country is tightening. The elections in Lebanon, like the elections in Iraq, seemed just a waste of time.

Like Afghanistan, US actions in Iraq and Lebanon can only be described as a withdrawal. It is letting Houthi and Iranian rebels penetrate there as well as the Arab Gulf. Moreover, if Iran returns to the nuclear agreement, it will increase its desire and to consolidate its influence in the region.

Regionally, Iran has not relied on its nuclear enrichment, but rather on two other factors- the first is its ability to disrupt other Arab societies, and the second is the fact that its influence in Iraq will only grow as the US administration has practically handed Iraq over to the Iranians. It is almost doing the same in the entire Arab Mashreq.

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Saturday, 04 February 2023