US Likely To Maintain Military Presence In Iraq To Pressure Iran - Ex-Diplomats

US Likely to Maintain Military Presence in Iraq to Pressure Iran - Ex-Diplomats

WASHINGTON (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 29th July, 2021) The Biden administration will likely maintain some type of military presence in Iraq after US combat troops leave to pressure Iran and control the country's oil reserves, former diplomats and a UN adviser with postings or experience in the region told Sputnik.

On Monday, Biden told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House that the US combat mission in Iraq would come to a close by the end of this year, although a remnant would stay behind in a train-assist role to counter the Islamic State terrorist group (banned in Russia).

"It appears that the Biden administration plans to apply in Iraq the same method of control that it uses in North East Syria," former UK Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford said. "That is, a light military footprint on the ground to direct the work of a proxy force."

In Syria, the proxy force the US backs is the Kurdish-controlled Syrian Democratic Forces, Ford added, and in Iraq it is the national army.

Ford said this will be supplemented by threats of airstrikes and economic firepower - including bribes to reward Iraqi political allies. Sanctions will also be used to deter any actions by Baghdad deemed harmful to US interests, he said.

"The move appears to follow the realization that a heavy ground presence is not only unnecessary when the same control can be achieved for less," Ford added.

The former UK diplomat also said it represents one of the aftershocks from the sanctions/tanker war of 2019 when the US attempted to starve Iran into submission by economic siege and Tehran retaliated by striking American client targets in Iraq and the Gulf.

"As such it must also be seen as part of the maneuvering over renewal of the Iran nuclear deal," Ford said.

A smaller US footprint in Iraq, he explained, may deplete Iran's inventory of targets, thus reducing Tehran's leverage in negotiations. Hence, it is highly likely, Ford said, that hawks in Washington will not try to stymie it as they did former President Donald Trump's attempt to exit Syria.

Former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman, however, believes the US leaving a non-combat footprint behind could still serve as a target.

"Biden's decision sets the stage for a further test. What is being withdrawn is combat troops. Forces not engaged in combat will remain and they will be a target for forces in Iraq determined to remove the American presence entirely. How will the remaining US troops be protected?" Freeman asked.

Former UN human rights adviser James Paul observed that nothing has been said about US-funded mercenaries, air force assets - including drones - based in Iraq and third countries like Jordan or the Gulf states.

"In short, the war continues - a war which is not only about controlling Iraq and its oil reserves but also about keeping pressure on Iran and seeking regime change there," Paul said.