Many sources report that the US troops are intensifying their military activities in Iraq.
This move carries overlapping dimensions in a country that has been turned into a ground of comprehensive confrontation between Americans and Iranians and a place for settling scores.
On April 1 in particular, the US troops intensified their reconnaissance flights, and this coincided with the end of what the Shiite factions – affiliated to Iran – called as the deadline for the departure of foreign forces from Iraq.
These moves open the door for two possibilities:
The first is that Washington has decided to confront with Iran in Iraq, ignoring all the pressures. And this option is supported by many indications including the redeployment, which means that the aim of the intensified reconnaissance flights is sending messages to Iran the US troops are staying.
The second is that Washington’s withdrawing its troops and reconnaissance flights are to secure the withdrawing forces, following evacuation of several military bases in Iraq.
A new base … A new Confrontation
The Spanish newspaper Atalaya published an investigation report, stating that the US army is planning to build a new military base in the west of Iraq to protect the US interests from and attack, the base of Ain al-Assad from any further attacks by Iran or its Iraqi militias, specifically the Popular Mobilization Forces.
According to the report, the US army will deploy Patriot anti-aircraft defense system, after constructing the base in Al-Anbar near Syria’s border.
Experts say setting the location for deploying Patriot missile system is a precedent in Iraq, and these measures indicate the US intention to stay in their western bases of Iraq for a long time, the newspaper added.
Evacuation or Redeployment
The International Coalition’s forces have recently evacuated from several bases in Iraq. US officials justified their withdrawal with the coronavirus outbreak in Iraq, although the US took advantage of their withdrawal making it a pretext for its troops’ activities. However, the hidden reason behind deploying troops in fewer bases is protecting the bases from possible attacks by Iran allied forces in Iraq.
In March 19, the coalition’s troops turned the administration of a military base established on the Syrian border in 2018 to the Iraqi intelligence forces, and this is the first of many other bases that media outlets speak about Washington’s intention to hand them over to Iraqi forces, reducing its military presence in Iraq.
Washington has about 14 air bases and camps in different regions of Iraq, the most important of which are al-Taji, 30 km north of Baghdad, Balad, 80 km north of Baghdad, al-Nasr near Baghdad International Airport, Al-Takadum and Ain al-Assad in Anbar, Qayyara in the north, the Presidential Palaces in Mosul, and the Harir base in Erbil.
As for the US soldiers, their number cannot be accurately known as hundreds of them have left Iraq due to the coronavirus outbreak, but the number of foreign soldiers is estimated at 8,000, 5,200 of whom are Americans, according to official sources. Meanwhile, non-official sources say that more than 16,000 foreign soldiers are present in Iraq.
Those forces are expected to hand over their positions in the base of Presidential Palaces in Mosul on April 4, after having officially handed the base of Qayara on March 26, and another in Kirkuk on March 29, according to Iraqi officials.
Hundreds of trainers are also expected to depart – temporarily – protecting themselves from the coronavirus, according to the coalition’s spokesperson Myles Coggins.
The remaining troops are expected to be transferred to safer major bases in the provinces of Salah Addin and al-Anbar.
Iran.. Threatening Fury
Abbas Mousawi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the US army’s moves contradict with the official demands of Iraqi government and with the stance of the Iraqi Parliament and Iraqi people, indicating – with a challenging tone mixed with underlying fear of the recent changes – that US moves could drag the region into more tensions and catastrophic situation.
The Iranian official called on the US forces to respect the will of the Iraqi government and people demanding the withdrawal of these forces from the country and refrain from fueling tension in the region.
Iranian Plans and Current Scene
From a different point of view, the redeployment of the coalition’s forces in three major bases in Iraq would give more room for Iran-allied forces to launch more violent attacks on these bases, as leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards adopt a tactic of killing more American soldiers, and forcing US administration to withdraw its troops.
While Iran tries to use its allied forces in expelling US forces from Iraq, the US insists on remaining, making Iraq as a base for its efforts in weakening the Iranian influence in the region.
The Iraqi militias allied with Iran fear the “suspicious activities” of the United States, which might be considered as initial acts of a wide-scale military operation against them, as Washington exploits the militias’ preoccupation with the coronavirus outbreak, according to a statement by Kata’ib Hezbollah.
The United States’ military and political withdrawal could help Iran expanding its influence and the capabilities of its allied forces in Iraq and the region, with possibilities to conduct attacks through its allies, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization and the Yemeni Houthi Group, on the energy infrastructure of Saudi Arabia and other countries.
This is what the US is trying to prevent by all means, as it will increase the tensions in the region, and will reflect negatively on the global economy.
Analysts says that forcibly disarming the Iran-allied militias and issuing resolutions to dismantle them might provoke them and lead them to take control over the capital and other Iraqi cities, similar to what happened in Yemen in 2014, when the Houthis took control over Sana’a, meaning a new armed conflict in Iraq.