The US-led coalition is drawing down or "adjusting" its military presence in Iraq. With ISIS on the ropes, the remaining forces will refocus on “policing, border control, and military capacity building.” A senior official close to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been reported to say that 60 percent of the US troops will be withdrawn. About 4,000 US personnel will remain as part of a training mission. There were 8,892 US troops in Iraq as of late September. The American soldiers are being shipped to Afghanistan, where roughly 14,000 troops are already stationed.
It’s conspicuous that the move is taking place against the backdrop of the upcoming May elections in Iraq. The American withdrawal will boost the chances of the US-friendly prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. But rebuilding the country is a large order for that cash-strapped government. Much of the nation is in ruins. The US-led coalition has not done much to propel the process of reconstruction.
So, the contingent in Afghanistan will receive reinforcements. However, the situation hasn't budged an inch since 2001. The Taliban movement has gained ground recently and is now active in 70 percent of the country. According to Randall Schriver, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, the war in Afghanistan costs $45 billion annually. Republican Sen. Rand Paul has said that tens of billions are "just being thrown down a hatch in that country." All attempts to reboot the operation have ended in failure. Despite that, there seems to be no prospect of pulling the plug on the failed policy.
What will be the outcome of this reduction in US forces? Iraq is preparing an operation to clear the mountainous area near the Iranian border where some anti-government armed groups are still active. The Iraqi government needs it to be secure before it starts transporting its oil from Kirkuk. According to Reuters, Iraq and Iran have agreed to swap up to 60,000 barrels per day of crude produced in Kirkuk for Iranian oil, which will be sent to southern Iraq. The oil is going to be transported by truck and the deal will boost Iran’s regional influence.
Last December, the Iraqi government announced plans to build a new 350-kilometer (220-mile) Kirkuk-Ceyhan (Turkey) oil pipeline to carry up to one million barrels a day. If that pans out, Turkey will see its regional influence grow. About the same time, Iraq reached a deal with China's state-run Zhenhua Oil to develop the southern section of the East Baghdad oil field, which is believed to hold eight billion barrels. As one can see, Iraq’s leaders are wise enough not to put all their eggs into one basket.
Iraq has recently been turning to Russia for oil deals, military assistance, and nation building. Military cooperation between the two countries has been on the rise. The bilateral contacts indicate the Iraqi government’s desire to expand that relationship.
And the United States? It should be noted that the US troops are hardly safer in Iraq than in Afghanistan. The US had no serious political plan when Iraq was invaded in 2003 and there is no such thing as an Iraq policy now. It is one of those wars that never end. It’s easy to get in, but next to impossible to get out. Look around, it’s not difficult to find conflicts like that in many places today, such as Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, you name it.
The US military presence around the world is mushrooming. Around 200,000 US troops are stationed in over 170 countries with no great victories to boast of. America is gradually pulling out of Iraq with no glory. The US is not popular in that country. Many Iraqis left the country after the US invasion, because of the massive security problems. Nor is America indispensable there. The Iraqi war was a costly military adventure that has produced many almost unsolvable problems.
In the same way, Washington may get involved in real fighting in Syria. For instance, with no proof to back up the allegation, the US insists that Syria’s government is using chemical weapons. The White House says Damascus would “pay a heavy price” if it were to carry out such an attack. Strikes against Syrian military infrastructure could lead to casualties among Iranian, Turkish, or Russian military personnel. That could also trigger a response.
In Iraq, a clash between US military and pro-Iranian militias can never be ruled out. Huge sums of money are being spent to force America to balance on the brink of conflict in faraway countries and risk its soldiers’ lives without any results to brag about. It makes one question the wisdom of a policy that calls for a military presence in so many places simultaneously. America has a lot to lose and nothing to gain.