Almost seven years after former US President Barack Obama pulled out the US military to the last soldier from Iraq, the United States announced it would keep its current force of between 7,000 and 9,000 troops in Iraq despite the defeat of Islamic State’s caliphate.
Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, said the United States would keep its Special Forces in Iraq “as long as we think they’re needed.”
Ryan said that once ISIS is definitely defeated Iraq, would still need help to stabilize the country which has seen relentless war since the American invasion in 2003.
The announcement by the American spokesman came two days after the State Department issued a travel warning for US citizens not to go to Iraq because of “terrorism and armed conflict.”
Iraq is currently going through a new political and humanitarian crisis, while ISIS is once again stepping up its attacks on the Iraqi military and civilian targets.
As I pointed out in an analysis about Iraq two weeks ago, ISIS has currently 17,000 Jihadist fighters in Iraq who are increasingly destabilizing the warn-torn country.
This week ISIS terrorists caused the death of at least 70 Iraqis and slaughtered 20 cows belonging to residents of the village of ad-Udheim in revenge for their alleged cooperation with the Iraqi security forces.
Another reason for the continuation of the US presence in Iraq is the political crisis in the country which started immediately after the parliamentary elections on May 12, and the Iranian attempts to turn the country into another proxy state.
Firebrand anti-Iranian Shiite politician Muqtada al-Sadr surprisingly won these elections - after which the Iranians interfered and dispatched Qassem Soleimani, the shrewd commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, to Bagdad in order to secure the forming of a pro-Iranian government.
To offset the Iranian meddling in the forming of a new government in Iraq, the Trump administration this week dispatched Brett McGurk to Baghdad in order to discuss the situation with Iraqi politicians.
McGurk together with Douglas Silliman, the American ambassador in Iraq, have been conducting talks with high-level Iraqi politicians all week.
This was done to end the stand-off created by Soleimani who succeeded in forcing al-Sadr into accepting the forming of a government with the Iranian-controlled Fatah Alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri.
Al-Amiri is a Shiite extremist whose Badr organization maintains a close relationship with the Iranian Islamist regime and who fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The Iranians also attempted to deny Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi - an ally of the United States - a second term. To realize this goal, they created a manmade humanitarian crisis in southern Iraq by cutting off the electricity supply.
The already dire humanitarian situation in Iraq was furthermore exacerbated by a severe water shortage which this week caused the illness of more than 17,000 people who drank contaminated water.
The London-based Arabic language paper Asharq al-Awsat (The Middle East) reported that “17,000 cases of colic and diarrhea were reported due to contaminated water over the past two weeks.”
"The hospitals in Basra receive about 1,500 such cases on a daily basis," Asharq al-Awsat wrote, quoting Riad Abdul-Amir, the Director-General of the Public Health Directorate in Iraq’s southern district Basra.
Al-Abadi, not Iran, was blamed for the humanitarian crisis and the ensuing violence which spread from Basra to other regions in Iraq. Iraq subsequently released $2.5 billion to solve the crisis but it didn’t placate the anger among the Iraqi population.
The Americans apparently understood their ally was in trouble and staged their own intervention in the political process which must lead to the forming of a new government in Iraq.
McGurk’s intervention immediately led to demonstrations in Bagdad’s so-called Green Zone where protesters held banners saying “those who sit with (US President) Donald Trump’s messenger betray the martyrs' blood.”
Some Iraqi politicians, furthermore, want to block what they dub American meddling in internal Iraqi affairs and want the new Iraqi parliament to debate Trump’s decision to keep US troops in Iraq, which they say is illegal under international law.
Muqtada al-Sadr, meanwhile, called for a day of rage after the American announcement.
The controversial winner of the Iraqi elections told his followers to hold a million man march against sectarianism, corruption, terrorism and against “the occupation.”
Sadr’s call about a protest against the “occupation” was interpreted by commentators as a signal to the Trump Administration to end what Iraqi politicians call “interfering” in the negotiations aimed at forming the biggest parliamentary bloc.
Trump, however, is looking at the broader picture and realizes he has to act in Iraq in order to implement his new Iran containment policy.