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Kurdish-Shiite Dispute over US Troops Ends their ‘Historic Alliance’ in Iraq

Kurdish-Shiite Dispute over US Troops Ends their ‘Historic Alliance’ in Iraq

Saturday, 18 January, 2020 - 09:30
US Army soldiers from Charlie Company 2-5 Cavalry Regiment watch illumination rounds during a night patrol near Camp Kalsu in Tunis, Iraq December 5, 2011. (Reuters)

Statements by officials in Baghdad and Erbil have revealed a severe disputes between the federal government and Kurdish authorities over ending the deployment of American forces in Iraq. The differences appear to have put the final nail in the coffin of the so-called “historic alliance,” struck years ago between Shiites and Kurds against the regime of late ruler Saddam Hussein.

Saddam’s regime was overthrown in 2003 and 17 years later, little remains of the alliance, especially after Shiite parliamentary blocs alone passed a resolution calling for an end to all foreign troop presence. The vote was boycotted by Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers.

Except for Masoud Barzani, most of the Kurdish and Shiite leaderships that struck the alliance have passed away. The alliance, which appeared aimed at marginalizing Sunnis, agreed to the constitution, with all of its flaws, that the Americans and United Nations played a major role in drafting. The flaws of the constitution have led to differences between the Kurds and Shiites, most notably over article 140 on Kirkuk and disputed regions.

However, the differences have always been resolved through settlements based on their emotions that brought them together in the first place to confront Saddam.

Seventeen years later, the situation is completely different and the Shiites acted alone in calling for the withdrawal of American troops.

President of the Kurdistan region in Iraq Nechirvan Barzani said the vote set a “bad precedent.”

“Our view is that the decision taken by the Iraqi parliament was not a good one and the Kurds and the Sunnis did not take part in that decision,” he told Al-Monitor on Thursday.

“The decision was taken by the Shiite bloc without consulting either of the key components of this country, the Kurds or the Sunnis. It was a very critical step that was taken without seeking consensus and as such violates the spirit of the Iraqi constitution. This is not good for Iraq, either now or for the future.”

“The question that first needs to be addressed is the following: Why are US troops here to begin with? They are here upon the invitation in 2014 of the Iraqi government and in consultation with the UN Security Council when the ISIS was on the outskirts of Baghdad,” continued Barzani.

“The second: Does the current situation in Iraq justify the withdrawal of US and coalition forces given their mission, which is to help defeat ISIS? As far as we, the KRG, is concerned the answer is plainly ‘No.’ All the intelligence indicates that ISIS has regrouped itself and that they are carrying out attacks against Iraqi targets on a daily basis. Hence, it's as much in the interest of Iraqi Kurdistan as it is for the whole of Iraq that US forces remain for the time being,” he stressed.

Security and strategic expert Dr. Hisham al-Hashemi said the US presence in Iraq helps it closely “manage its interests in the region.”

“Its deployment helps protect its allies in the Middle East and blocks the establishment of a land route between Tehran and Beirut,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He stressed the importance of the American role in Iraq, saying it was the main source of weapons for the Iraqi military, the counter-terrorism apparatus and federal police, and it provides surveillance and spy equipment for the intelligence and national security agencies.

Political researcher Raad Hashem said the call on the Americans to quit Iraq has been made before. “Such demands intensify based on security developments and the mood of the political class running the country,” he explained.

In wake of the recent American-Iranian escalation, Shiite parties renewed their calls for the American troops to withdraw, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Kurds have repeatedly rejected such demands because they are aware of ISIS’ lingering threat. The latest sign of their opposition was their refusal to take part in the parliament session that called for the troop withdrawal, he added.

He described the pullout demands as “hasty”, saying that parties were seeking to exploit them for political gain or out of their sympathy with Iran.

Earlier this month, the Iraqi parliament called for US and other foreign troops to leave in wake of Washington’s killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in an air strike in Baghdad on January 3.

“The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, air space or water for any reason,” it said.

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