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Aug 29, 2021
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Collapse in Afghanistan and consequences for Iraq

Taliban won a long battle against the United States, but this victory does not end the war

So, the Taliban *, banned in Russia, have established control over Afghanistan at a record speed. President Biden promised in mid-July that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be a hasty flight. However, the American leadership underestimated the situation.

The indiscriminate American withdrawal from Afghanistan once again pointed to the insecurity of the United States as a partner. Parallels in the media with the American flight from Saigon in April 1975 are fueling a growing perception of America as a power that makes reckless incursions, fails, and abandons its “allies” to their fate. Now the political leaders of neighboring countries are closely watching what is happening in Afghanistan. Hopes that Biden will restore American credibility are dwindling.

The leaders of both political parties in the United States decided that after a 20-year war with the Taliban, it was time to leave Afghanistan. In issuing the withdrawal order, President Biden was acting in line with the policies of his predecessor. It was President Trump who decided to negotiate with the Taliban: he gave political recognition to the armed group by holding direct negotiations with its leadership and completely pushing the Afghan government aside. His administration signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020. Trump had no doubts about the success of an orderly exit from Afghanistan.

However, the US administration took wishful thinking. It was a mistake to believe that the Taliban might be interested in a lasting peace. The Doha agreement was largely Taliban-oriented, helped undermine Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and helped free 5,000 Taliban prisoners without concessions.

Today, Biden is completing what Trump began, but the promised “orderly exit” has turned into chaos.

In a recent editorial in Iranian-owned Arab newspaper Al-Alam, the United States was labeled a “naked king.” It is emphasized that America certainly did not think and will not think about establishing security in any Arab or Islamic country that it invaded and occupied. That is why America so easily sold all the Afghans who collaborated with it, and after 20 years of occupation leaves the country in a state of civil war. The Iranians are right: there is a growing impression among Arab governments that they cannot rely on the United States.

First of all, we are talking about Iraq, the leadership of which has agreed to complete the American combat mission in the country by the end of the year. This decision was made by President Biden and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi at a meeting in Washington on August 23. By December 31, 2021, there will be no US forces in Iraq carrying out combat missions.

The agreement is an indirect result of the events of January 2020, when IRGC General Qasem Soleimani and senior Iraqi military leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed by an American drone strike at Baghdad airport. Outraged by the extrajudicial killing on Iraqi soil, local politicians voted to expel all American soldiers. The decision taken in Washington is ostensibly a US response to an optional parliamentary vote, but in reality this agreement is more like a standard diplomatic measure to reduce anti-American sentiment in Iraqi society.

Most Iraqi leaders, including those who do not openly say so, recognize the importance of the US military presence, and few support the Shiite militia leadership, which insists that the US withdraw completely and sever ties with Iraq. In the meantime, as in Afghanistan, the results of the 18-year US presence in Iraq do not allow the Americans to declare their mission complete.

Today, as in Afghanistan several years ago, the United States does not seek a complete withdrawal of troops in Iraq. There are plans to maintain air cover and provide the Iraqi military with intelligence about the terrorists of the IS *, banned in Russia, with whom the Americans themselves are no longer going to fight, as they once abandoned military operations against the Taliban. At the end of April 2018, the US military officially dismissed the command that oversaw the fight against the Islamic State * banned in Russia in Iraq, announcing the termination of major military operations against this group.

The United States announces the creation in Iraq of a neutral, strong and professional army capable of opposing paramilitaries loyal to Iran. This approach shows the desire of the United States to use the military capabilities of Iraq in confrontation with Iran. Here Iraq runs the risk of repeating the fate of Afghanistan and returning to a new civil war.

Iraq’s political system is balanced between three demographic groups – Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds. And if US forces pull out entirely, Sunni Muslims and Kurds fear that Iranian-backed Shia Muslim forces will fill any security vacuum. Recall that due to sectarian tensions among Sunni and Shiite groups, as well as tensions between Kurdish groups in the north and the government in Baghdad, the Iraqi army was unprepared for an independent confrontation with IS.

From 2006 to 2011, there was a civil war in Iraq between Sunni factions, some of which received funding from donors in the Arab Sunni states, and Shiite Iraqi militias, supported by Iran. The presence of American troops gave a certain degree of confidence, especially to the Sunnis, that no one group could completely reverse the system and dominate the other. With the final withdrawal of American troops, Shiite state-building will become the main vector of Iraq’s development.

Today in Iraq more than 2 million people remain internally displaced and almost 9 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Rebuilding the country is projected to cost at least $ 88 billion. In addition to integrating the liberated Sunni communities into the political system, the new government must also demobilize powerful Shiite militias. In addition, tensions remain in Baghdad’s relations with Kurdish groups seeking greater autonomy in the north following the failed independence referendum in October 2017. There are serious concerns that the US disregard for the development of statehood in Iraq will lead to the disintegration of the country. Two decades of America’s efforts to build a “secure” state in Afghanistan were wiped out by the Taliban in a matter of months.

For many American politicians who believe that victory in Iraq is the first step towards overthrowing the regime in Iran, the creation of a pro-American democratic government in Baghdad was the primary goal. In practice, it turned out that the democratic government in Baghdad turned out to be pro-Iranian. The leading position of the Shiites in the leadership of Iraq provides an advantage for Tehran.

During the years of occupation, Iraq turned from a presidential republic into a parliamentary one. In accordance with the new Iraqi Constitution, ratified in 2005, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds must be represented in parliament. The place of the president is taken by the representative of the Kurdish community, the speaker of the parliament – by the Sunni. However, the key position in the Iraqi power structure is the position of the prime minister, who should be a representative of the Shiite parties.

In addition, there are fears that the Islamic State *, which has lost control of territory in Iraq and Syria, may focus on organizing terrorist attacks. It is shocking that US officials are brushing off the implications of a Taliban victory on the rise of international terrorism. A Taliban victory will be a boon for the jihadists. Various terrorist groups cheerfully celebrated the Taliban conquest of Kabul in chat rooms and other online-platforms, promising to renew the global jihad.

American and other Western intelligence agencies have long known that the Taliban continue to maintain close ties with the Russian-banned al-Qaeda * and other terrorist organizations. In its June 2021 assessment, the UN Security Council concluded that “A large number of al-Qaeda fighters and other foreign extremist elements associated with the Taliban are in various parts of Afghanistan.”… After the US fled, the Taliban freed thousands of them from prisons in Bagram, Kabul, Kandahar and elsewhere.

We can only wait to see how the events in Iraq will unfold. It is unlikely that we can do something else. The risks of armed violence are increasing. The Taliban won a long battle against the most powerful country in the world, but this victory does not end the war, but raises a new question: where will America be hit next time?

Photo: Iraqi Shiite militias, REUTERS / Thaier Al-Sudani

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