Iraq remains trapped between widespread corruption, systemic militia creation, terrorism, an endless war between Turkey and the Kurds on its soil, a Iran treating it as one of its provinces, a disengaged international community and, finally, a fratricidal war between Shiites about to break out. In this context, Iraq is one of the most fragile states in the world.
The US invasion that put an end to the regime of Saddam Hussein it turned Iraq into a constant source of regional instability and international concern, breaking the relative balance found since the 1980s in the Persian Gulf, between a triangle of influence that opposed Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The current instability in Iraq is the result of deep-rooted structural problems, born of two decades of war and serious political crises.
Having fought Iraq in the 1980s, Iran, Washington’s great enemy, has become Iraq’s closest neighbor after 2003. In addition to the Iranian gas trade and reliance, Iraq has a large number of factions. pro-Iranian armies that are now integrated into the state. And with pro-Iranian parties dominating parliament and the current government, Tehran is further consolidating its hold on Baghdad.
A few years after the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, the election of the Democrat Joe Biden in November 2020 did not, initially, have a great impact on the US foreign policy towards Iraq carried out at the time by donald trump. Like Barack Obama, both were motivated by the implementation of the “pivot to Asia,” which is a US engagement in multiple Asian alliances against systemic rival China. As a consequence of this, the decision to withdraw the US military from Iraq has also been inscribed in a series of factors, the first of which is the fatigue of US public opinion, exhausted and worn out by the multiple interventions carried out since the attacks of 2001. The goal is to put an end to the endless wars of the Administration of George W. Bush (2001-2009). The failure in Afghanistan and the seizure of Kabul by the Taliban in August 2021 have reinforced the decision of the current Democratic president to end the US mission in Iraq. Biden’s announcement of the withdrawal after signing an agreement with the Iraqi government of Mustafa al-Kazimi in July 2021, it had planned the redefinition of a new phase in military cooperation between the two countries. Framed in the broader context of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, the White House wanted to show goodwill to the Islamic Republic.
Iraq has been going through a new phase of instability since the summer of 2022, which is part of the continuous turmoil that the country has experienced since the US intervention in 2003 and that it seems to be the culmination of the tensions that inflame the Shiite factions and from which the shadow of Tehran can be seen.
Abandoned by the US and the West, Iraq is being the object of investment by China, which has entered the gap by becoming the first importer of Iraqi oil and capturing 44% of the 800,000 barrels of crude oil. exported daily by Baghdad. Trade exchanges surpassed 53 billion dollars in 2022 and embody China’s ambition to expose its potential and establish itself in a country once dominated by the West.
With Baghdad at the center of the strategic game in the Gulf, US and Western policy in the Middle East remains uncertain. The announcement of the withdrawal of US troops does not mean a total withdrawal. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which derailed the strategy towards Asia, the White House appears to be reviewing its priorities. In July, Biden reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the region after spending the start of his term focused on the Ukraine war and China’s influence in Asia. He confirmed the US interest in strengthening ties with the Gulf monarchies, concerned about the successive withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq. However, toto leave Baghdad to its own devices is to leave the country in the hands of an explosive mix of communal tensions (which could escalate into civil war) and terrorist groups.
A strong Iraq is a strategic priority to secure the Arabian peninsula, ensure the stability of global oil and gas exports, and fight both Iran and jihadism, while reassuring Israel’s ally.