What if US troops stay in KRI?
On the 5th of January 2020, Iraq’s parliament decided to remove all foreign troops from Iraq, including the American ones. Many Shiite military groups threatened to use violence against those who want to refuse this plan. They also forced the new Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhemi, to commit to this decision.
This will cast a shadow on the next phases of the Iraqi-American strategic dialogue. If Baghdad and Washington do not reach a proper deal, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), as media have reported, will host the American forces in its military bases.
This scenario means that Iraq is going to be on the brink of a new internal crisis. To contain the Kurdish-American hopes, Shiite hardline members will issue a new legislative resolution to force the Americans to leave the bases located in KRI. The Iraqi parliament will be an arena of conflict between Shiites and Kurds.
Shiite parties will also accuse the Kurds and the Americans of having a conspiracy against Iraq. Therefore, they will interact with Iran to exercise different geopolitical tactics to threaten KRI.
The Kurds might be in a real deadlock. They know well that Baghdad might punish them economically and financially. This will lead to the destabilization of their region as people will not tolerate Kurdish leaders if they fail to pay to pay the salaries of public officials. In other words, this will put the future of the social and political stability of KRI at risk.
Consequently, the sense of fraternity between Arabs and Kurds will be damaged. This will influence their mutual interactions in the ethnically mixed cites. The speech of hatred will rise and actions of revenge will emerge for tiny reasons.
Furthermore, the policies of demographic change will be widely applied to create new geographical realities. We have a completely militarized society that tends to use violence to settle its simplest problems. Thus, many victims will pay the cost of such dramatic turnings.
It is expected that KRI will face more economic setbacks if Baghdad thinks of isolating the Kurds geopolitically. For example, Baghdad can stop its dependence on the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, going through KRI, to export oil to Turkey.
This will prevent the Kurds from their geographically important role as a territorial bridge connecting Turkey with Iraq. Instead, Iraq can ship its oil with tankers, as it was doing before, to Iran. This will result in weakening the function of KRI in the Turkish economic policy. As a result, Turkey might change its view towards the future of its relations with KRI.
All these things will encourage The Islamic State (IS) group to resurface. Historically, IS, which managed to control Mosul and 40% of Iraqi lands in 2014, could exploit the disagreements between Baghdad and Erbil and Tehran and Washington to intensify its presence in Iraq.
Returning the same circumstances means that a new strategic vacuum will be formed around KRI, and IS knows well how to fill such geographical spots.
It is assumed that IS will try to get benefit from this game by all available means. This time, KRI will be a theater for a complicated contest, and its security will be in real danger.
In this case, the conflict between the Popular Mobilization Units and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces will be unavoidable. This military stand-off will erupt in the places surrounding KRI, such as in Mosul, Kirkuk and Diyala provinces.
Accordingly, the population structure of these cities will also be changed. Unlike the sectarian fight that engulfed Iraq in 2006, this new phase of the war will be hugely based on the ethnic factors and will be a cause for an extra wave of regional polarization in Iraq.
Such tension has been seen on many different occasions. We fear that it might evolve into a long war between these groups. This might also affect the social security of Syria, Turkey and Iran.
In this regard, it seems that the US is caught in the Iraqi geopolitical scene. It can't afford the tremendous cost of staying in Iraq nor is it ready for a complete departure as it thinks this will be interpreted as a big victory to the Iranian player.
For the Americans, conveying troops to the KRI's military bases without real arrangements with Baghdad will not be a rational option.
The truth that no one can obscure is that "If the US resorts to this decision, it will implicate its ally - the Kurds - in a lot of problems that can't be solved easily."
The fragile balance in KRI will not be able to hold up in the face of these developments.
From a military standpoint, many observers confirm that the US has lost Iraq; thus, it must now focus on how to preserve its security, political, and economic ties with this country.
To establish long time understandings between these sides, these strategic matters must be seriously discussed between both sides to shield their future relations from any likely imbalances.
Diyari Salih is an Iraqi academic working at al-Mustansiriyah university. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Geography from the University of Baghdad and a Post-Doctorate in International Relations from the University of Warsaw. His research focuses on geopolitical issues in Iraq. He tweets at @DiyariFaily