Afghanistan was not ready for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Now, minority groups there face extreme dangers, terrorism thrives, and many Afghans are experiencing displacement and desperate poverty. Now, Iraq faces a similar situation. It is not ready for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. If a withdrawal occurs, the world will potentially witness another catastrophe.
Iraq will face ongoing pressure and threats from Iran and extremist groups once the U.S. withdraws its remaining 2,500 U.S. military personnel at the end of 2021. Instead of a withdrawal, the U.S. should increase the number of U.S. service personnel stationed in Iraq to 3,500 through the end of 2022. An increase in service members would lessen the possibility of security threats, aid in the reconstruction of Iraq’s military, and increase the safety of Iraqi citizens.
The U.S.-Iraq relationship is key to the stability of the Middle East. The U.S. aided Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State, and has provided diplomatic, economic, and political aid to help stabilize Iraq. A U.S. withdrawal will make Iraq more exposed to extremist attacks by militant and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Iraq’s Shi’a militias funded by Iran and encouraged to undermine the government. Iran will also increase its influence and military presence throughout Iraq.
Increasing the number of U.S. service personnel stationed in Iraq to 3,500 through the end of 2022 will reduce security threats. Internal threats exist due to extremist and PMF groups targeting Iraqi government officials and citizens, and external threats exist from Iran’s increasing pressure and hopes to extend Shi’a influence throughout Iraq. U.S. military personnel can aid Iraqi forces in maintaining stability throughout the country.
This increase in U.S. troops can aid in the reconstruction and stability of Iraq’s military. Iraq’s military has been weakened since it began its fight against ISIS, and currently is not capable of facing internal and external threats alone. However, Iraq cannot, and should not, continuously rely on the U.S. By aiding in the reconstruction and stability of Iraq’s military now, the U.S. will be able to withdraw its troops earlier with full confidence that the military will be able to defend Iraq. But, if the U.S. fully withdraws its troops by the end of 2021, Iraq’s military will fall.
An increase in U.S. troops will provide increased protection for Iraqi citizens, as citizens are highly vulnerable to ground and air attacks. U.S. troops will have more access to modern technology to detect and deter attacks from targeting locations throughout Iraq. Potential loss of civilian life will likely decrease.
There are concerns that internal and external groups will interpret the increase of U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq as a sign of aggression. Extremist groups will likely view the U.S. increase of military personnel in Iraq as a preparation to directly confront them. In response, extremist groups and Iran may attack U.S. and Iraqi military forces more often. However, with an increase in U.S. military personnel, Iraqi forces will have more access to modern technology to detect and deter potential attacks. By detecting attacks before they occur, the U.S. will likely save many Iraqi lives.
The U.S. must increase the number of U.S. service members stationed in Iraq to 3,500 through the end of 2022. The world must not witness another catastrophe like Afghanistan. By increasing the number of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq now, the U.S. will be able to fully withdraw earlier in the future with full confidence that the Iraqi military can defend itself. Until that time arrives, the U.S. military will keep an essential location within the Middle East stable, and will also protect the lives of many Iraqi citizens. The time for the U.S. to act is now, to ensure a stable and prosperous future for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world.
Adele Carter is currently pursuing an MA in Middle East Studies, concentrating in International Security Studies, at The George Washington University.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of BasNews.
This article was originally published on International Policy Digest.