ANALYSIS: Is the US losing Iraq after Soleimani's assassination?

After elimination of top Iranian military leaders in Baghdad, Iraq increasingly aligning itself with Iran - and against American interests.

Yochanan Visser ,

Qassem Soleimani (left), head of the IRGC Quds Force
Qassem Soleimani (left), head of the IRGC Quds Force
Reuters

More than three weeks after the American drone strike on Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps near Baghdad, it is slowly becoming clear that the assassination will have long-term ramifications for US policy in the war-torn country.

The assassination of Soleimani caused a dramatic change in the internal turmoil in Iraq where large crowds were demonstrating not only against the corrupt Iraqi government but also against Iran’s attempts to take over the country.

After the US military took out Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the al-Hashd al-Sha’abi umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias and the leader of the extremist Kata’ib Hezbollah militia the demonstrators turned against the US presence in Iraq.

This happened after the Shiite lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament passed a motion demanding an end to the renewed presence of the US army in Iraq by a margin of 170 to 0.

Currently, there are approximately 5,000 American soldiers in Iraq, and the Trump administration has already made it clear it has no intention to give in and withdraw US forces from the country.

While the US Special Forces are officially in Iraq to combat ISIS, their mission has since the end of 2019 changed to fighting Iran’s increasing entrenchment in the country.

This was done by launching airstrikes on two bases of Kata’ib Hezbollah, a militia heavily supported by Iran, and by killing Soleimani and his sidekick al-Muhandis who had more than 40 years experience in battling foreign forces in Iraq.

Since October of last year, Iran’s proxy militia in Iraq reportedly launched already 109 Katyusha rockets on American targets in Iraq among them the heavily fortified US embassy in Baghdad that again was targeted last week when three rockets fell near its premises.

After the IRGC bombed two US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, new security rules were imposed on US personnel in Iraq while security cooperation with Iraqi security services has almost ceased.

Iraq is now fighting the remnants of Islamic State alone, including an aerial campaign against the Jihadist group.

Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the winner of the last elections in Iraq, on Friday effectively joined the Iranian axis in Iraq when he organized his own anti-US mass rally and issued a statement outlining steps that must be taken to get rid of the US Army.

From now on the US military in Iraq will be treated as an enemy if the Trump administration doesn’t give in and withdraws the American troops from the country al-Sadr wrote.

He also called for closing all US bases and security headquarters in Iraq and for shutting down Iraq’s airspace for US warplanes and other aircraft but stopped short of threatening military action if the Americans refuse to leave.

Instead, al-Sadr said he called for “political, cultural, economic, social, and national peaceful ways so that the US withdrawal from Iraq is actualized unless the country chooses other options.”

The Shiite cleric also outlined how he would reach a situation that ensures Iraq’s sovereignty and security.

This must be done by a withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraqi soil, non-interference with Iraq’s internal affairs, the closing of non-aggression treaties with Iraq’s neighbors and strengthening Iraq’s economic and political situation while also prohibiting interaction of non-state actors in Iraq with foreigners.

Only the Iraqi government can interact with these unspecified foreigners according to the powerful Iraqi leader.

Al-Sadr reportedly switched sides in the Iraqi turmoil after he met in the Iranian city of Qom with Iranian officials and Iraqi commanders of militias belonging to al-Hashd al-Sha’abi on January 13.

After the meeting al-Sadr announced he would strive to establish a new force under the name “International Resistance” and said he would organize the march of a million people in Iraq against the US presence in the country that took place on Friday last week.

The turnabout of al-Sadr, who used to support the Iraqi demonstrators and even delivered them food during the sit-ins and other permanent demonstrations in Iraqi cities over the past three months, came after an unknown drone targeted his headquarters in the Iraqi city of al-Najaf on December 7, 2019.

Last week al-Sadr also ordered his supporters to pull-out of the continuing demonstrations against the corrupt Iraqi government a move that effectively served as a green light for Iraq’s security forces and others to start a new bloody crack-down on the protesters.

Members of the security forces again used guns to shoot down protesters and burned tents that were erected in various demonstration sites.

In the city of Nasiriyah alone three demonstrators were shot dead while 50 others were wounded by bullets when security forces opened fire. Similar events occurred in Baghdad, Basra, Amara, Diwaniya, Hilla and Kut.

So far, more than 500 protesters have been killed while thousands of others have been wounded during the demonstrations that began in October last year.

The violence continued on Sunday when security forces again used live rounds to clear demonstration hotspots killing and wounding an unknown number of people, while al-Sadr called for new demonstrations against the US presence in Iraq.

After the assassination of Soleimani and al-Muhandis Iran tightened its grip on Iraq and apparently succeeded in winning over al-Sadr who has a history of problematic relations with the Islamic Republic but hates the United States like the regime in Tehran does.

With Soleimani gone the Iranians were in risk of losing their grip on Iraq and apparently decided to adopt a new policy that is designed to strengthening the anti-USA camp in the Shiite majority country.

So far, the Trump Administration has not come up with an answer to the increasing hostilities against US interests in Iraq.

All was fine wrote Trump on his Twitter account after Iranian cruise missiles hit two US bases in Iraq and claimed there were zero casualties on the American side.

However, as events in Iraq show after that attack, not all is fine from an American point of view.

Like the truth about the US casualties of the Iranian missile strikes is slowly coming out – the Pentagon now acknowledges that 34 US soldiers suffered brain injury during the attacks – a worrying picture slowly emerges about the American attempts to stop Iran’s entrenchment in Iraq.

The United States has not been able to stop Iran in Iraq and that, in turn, could have severe consequences for the wider war against the Islamic Republic.




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