US Withdrawal: ISIS Resurgence is Just One Scenario out of Four
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Sardar Sattar

US Withdrawal: ISIS Resurgence is Just One Scenario out of Four

On December 29, 2021, only two days before the deadline for the US-led Global Coalition to withdraw its combat forces from Iraq, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced that the last soldier had already left his country and the remaining foreign forces were only there to train and advise the Iraqi forces. This might be considered the end of an era, but could also be the beginning of a new one. The withdrawal, as many believe, can lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State (ISIS), which is only one scenario in the absence of the US combat forces in Iraq. The IS resurgence itself can mark the beginning of a new chain of crises that would not be easy to handle this time. 

Early in December, when the US began the practical phase of the withdrawal, ISIS stepped up terrorist attacks in the provinces of Diyala, Salahaddin, Anbar, Kirkuk, and Nineveh. In less than 30 days, the extremist group killed at least 30 Peshmerga fighters of the Kurdistan Region and many more Iraqi troops and paramilitary fighters. This was soon interpreted as an alarming precedent which triggered the debate on whether or not Iraq should ask the US to prolong the withdrawal, but it was already too late as the official agreements had been made. 

If we consider the re-emergence of ISIS as the first likely scenario in the absence of the Coalition and US combat forces, then there are three others that could eventually become inevitable realities. 

First of all, the possible ISIS comeback could give the Iran-backed Shia militias of Iraq a chance to justify prolonging their existence as they were formed to “assist” the Iraqi Army in its war against the Sunni extremist group in the first place. Since the latest parliamentary elections, powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Sadrist Movement has emerged victorious, has repeatedly been calling for the dissolution of the militia groups so arms would be only in the hands of the state. Therefore, an increase in the ISIS movements in Iraq can give the Shia militias the chance to convince influential leaders like Sadr, that their existence is still needed in Iraq.  

The second scenario would then lead to the third one, which is giving Iran an upper hand again to shape the future of Iraq’s political landscape. Since 2005, when the majority Shia population rose to power in Iraq, Iran has always been an active — and in most of the cases decisive — player in Iraq. The strength of the Shia militias would mean Iran’s greater hegemony in Baghdad, where a gap has been left by the US and its allies since the withdrawal. 

If these domino-like scenarios are what we should expect, then the last blow will come when Baghdad would fail to form a new government — at least an inclusive and successful one. The Shia militias have lost the election, but they are unlikely to let political rivals take power and shape the next government so easily and through a democratic process. They, indeed, see the real power coming from military capacity and not public backing, which means they will keep arms and, therefore, maintain political power. 

With the arguments mentioned above, Iraq would most likely see a significant surge in violence once again that would help Iran to restructure its ‘deep state’ in Iraq and revive its regional influence, especially after it faced a massive recess in the absence of Qasem Soleimani, the top Iranian general who was killed in a US airstrike two years ago and was known as the man behind every political move in Baghdad. 

Sardar Sattar graduated from the University of Lodz in Poland, with a Master's degree in General Linguistics. He is a journalist based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, covering regional politics for local and international news outlets.

[The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of BasNews.]

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