The second occupation of Iraq

If the US refuses to withdraw its troops they will eventually be forced out as they were in 2011

By Abdel Bari Atwan

President Donald Trump has no legal or moral right to reject the Iraqi government’s officially submitted request for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq. His refusal to pull them out defies both the Iraqi parliament’s vote and the agreement signed by the two sides that provided legal cover for the deployment of 5,300 American personnel in the country to train Iraqi forces and help them fight the Islamic State group (Daesh). Iraq no longer needs nor wants that assistance, and certainly not from an aggressive occupying power.

Washington’s stance betrays long-term hostile intentions against Iraq and the entire Middle East region.

Even more ominously, the Pentagon now says it is studying plans to expand the NATO presence in Iraq. This means bringing in additional troops and armament in open defiance of the Iraqi government and parliament – effectively mounting a repeat invasion of the country, under equally spurious pretexts as the first time.

In addition, Trump has been reiterating that if the Iraqis insist on the Americans leaving, they will first have to “payback” the costs incurred by the US in the country, “otherwise we’ll stay there’’. He also threatened to confiscate billions of dollars of Iraqi government funds held in the US and subject the country to draconian economic sanctions “as they’ve never seen before.”

By refusing to withdraw its troops and threatening to reinforce the NATO presence, the US is continuing to treat Iraq as an occupied territory, showing utter contempt both for its sovereignty and its government – a government that came to power as a result of the political process the US itself imposed on the country.

Outgoing prime minister Adel Abdelmahdi was right to warn the Americans that deploying forces and materiel in or conducting over-flights of the country without the government’s permission would be an affront to the Iraqi state and people. But that would be nothing new. When Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Ain al-Assad base during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays respectively, they did not even inform the authorities in Baghdad that they were in the country. Treating the government with contempt is not merely a product of recent developments.

As for Trump’s demand that Iraq reimburses the US for the costs of invading and occupying the country, this is not just an insult to Iraq but to the intelligence of all humanity. Iraq did not ask to be invaded and occupied. It was subjected to naked aggression on fake pretexts preceded by a crippling 12-year blockade, which between them caused the deaths of more than a million Iraqis. People are continuing to die to this day from cancers caused by the uranium-tipped munitions with which the country was the bombardment. It is the US that should be paying compensation and reparations to Iraq for the untold death and devastation it caused.

The US is responsible for triggering the latest crisis to explode in the region, first by ditching the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran, and then by assassinating Gen. Qasem Soleimani and his comrade Abu-Mahdi al –Mohandis, deputy commander of Iraq’s Hashd ash-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) forces. The reported arrest of a three-member spy cell at Baghdad airport that allegedly supplied information about the pair’s arrival on a civilian flight from Damascus should shed light on this matter.

Armed resistance by the Iraqi people forced American troops to quit the country at the end of 2011, and they will repeat this heroic feat if they have to until the day comes when the US begs the Iraqi authorities – as it is currently doing with the Taliban – to ensure a safe departure for its forces.

The US cannot expect to trample on people’s dignity, violate their sovereignty and murder their leaders in such provocative fashion without provoking a ferocious response. The claim that the US is too powerful for anyone to take on is a deception that must be challenged. The country that is now trying to reconstitute its occupation is the same one that retreated in ignominious defeat from Iraq in 2011 — and it is weaker now than it was then, no longer holding sway as the world’s unchallenged hegemon.

Iraq cannot and must not submit to this extortion, be it financial or military. It is not a banana republic or an American dependency or protectorate, but an ancient country with a proud and resilient people. It will resist this second occupation and fight back as it did the first time.

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