America’s conflict with Iraq has many fronts. While fighting ISIS has taken center stage, Washington has consistently attempted to undermine the country’s stability through actions like the U.S.’ troop withdrawal and the CIA’s penetration of Iraqi democracy. In the midst of all that, Iraqi PM Bader al-Abadi has been actively trying to consolidate power at home, and possibly the region, by appearing to co-opt Iran and crack down on jihadist activity.
But today, some of those efforts could be on hold as the U.S. is threatening to pull out of Iraq completely. This would effectively remove the American Embassy in Baghdad from the strategic equation and leave it without the government to maintain stability or American interference.
President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and to continue his full spectrum war on Iran sets the stage for a costly, ill-considered break from current American policy. While the president announced that new sanctions are imminent on Iran and that Iraq’s oil would not be exempt, it’s premature to speculate whether Iraqi President al-Abadi will stay the course with Iran. While he may want to get out of the country and make a base in Lebanon, al-Abadi has been leading a power struggle against Iranian influence and asserting the sovereignty of his country.
A deal on a U.S. embassy closure would create a wider power vacuum in Iraq that could easily be filled by Iran and regional powers like Russia and Turkey. While the U.S. has always played an important role in helping to stabilize Iraq, pulling out would remove a critical source of stability from al-Abadi’s political team.
This latest media report is part of a pattern: one can no longer ignore the unbalanced relationship between the Trump administration and Iraq, which seems to be mutually hostile. For Trump’s initial foreign policy shifts, the administration’s response to violent attacks in the country was often heavy-handed and non-compassionate. The protests in the cities like Basra and Fallujah were heavily censored and propaganda barely reigned over looting and violence.
Looking to Iraq as the country to be dragged into the latest Middle East war between Iran and the U.S. seems strange and counterproductive. New developments in Syria and Iran show that a contained Iran and its allies are a positive source of stability in the region.
A more balanced approach would be to continue to prioritize the anti-ISIS fight and ultimately to write a clean exit deal with al-Abadi, who is increasingly reliant on U.S. support for both military and economic matters. It’s hard to see how a U.S. embassy closure would benefit Iraq, as with it comes the threat of an imminent war with Iran.