Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Mustafa Fahs

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Iraq The Day After The United States’ Withdrawal

If, hypothetically, an American National Security Council meeting were to end with a high-ranking American spokesperson announcing that “earlier today, the last American soldier was evacuated from Iraq as part of the US withdrawal from the global coalition against terrorism. The president had decided to withdraw our forces following the US administration’s failure to come to an understanding with the Iraqi government that would allow for maintaining US bases in Iraq." If this hypothetical scenario were to actually happen, the so-called Iraqi resistance would have accomplished the "sacred" mission of their Jihad, a historic victory over the great satan.
Those hoping to turn this hypothetical scenario into reality could be hoping to replicate what happened in Afghanistan. There, however, Washington knew that one faction represented the majority and had the organizational capacity to control the run of Afghanistan, irrespective of its ideology and its relationship with its neighbors and the international community. For Washington, the goal was to bring its soldiers back home safely and to put an end to the extortion of certain regional actors.
In Iraq, on the other hand, a US withdrawal - given the fact that no party could fill the vacuum it would create - directly threatens Iraq’s ability to endure as a single country. Indeed, all the components of the Iraqi political system have systematically sought to weaken the armed forces and hollow out their combat doctrine, diminishing their role in favor of nationalist or ideological auxiliary military forces.
Rife with sharp sectarian, national, and regional polarization, as well as intra-sectarian, intra-ethnic, and intra-regional splits, Iraq is brimming with a myriad of rival ideological factions that are armed to the teeth. Everyone (individuals, factions, sects, and national groups) will resort to violence under the pretext of self-defense, given their deep distrust of the other, whether near, or far, within or without the country’s borders. Indeed, 20 years into the emergence of the new regime, it has failed to build a national identity that unifies the country, and successive governments have failed to strengthen the state's standing. The largest component of the country bears responsibility for this.
Representing the largest component in the country, the Taliban has managed to administer its state, which has begun a process to monopolize the use of violence, and it swiftly eliminated the threat to its authority in the Panjshir Valley. However, the representatives of Iraq’s largest component, the armed Shiite Islamist factions running the country, are already divided among themselves. They are divided on what the country’s authority should look like and are prepared to use violence to monopolize the state's institutions and wealth. So far, Tehran has managed to keep them in check, under the pretext of maintaining balance with Washington, which could grant and withhold legitimacy at will.
In the event of a US withdrawal, not only would the legitimacy of those residing in the Green Zone fall, the Green Zone would itself become illegitimate and collapse. Everyone recognizes the risks of upending the equilibrium between Washington and Tehran, whereby the former can pull non-military leavers to squeeze the Iraqi government economically and punish it financially, while the latter can extort the US when it sees fit. Losing the capacity to extort the US would leave Iran sinking in the quicksand of Iraq alone and without anyone to work out its lethal devilish details with.

It is not far-fetched to think that, once the pretext of resistance becomes a thing of the past, these forces would manage their conflicts over monopolizing what remains of the state through violence; the same is true for how they would wage their power struggles in their strongholds, namely the central and southern regions. Moreover, the removal of this pretext raises the specter of conflicts with the Sunnis and Kurds. The political, regional, ideological, and tribal contradictions of Iraq would fuel a battle to settle scores among its various components, especially with the broad availability of arms to Iraqi partisan and tribal groups, the absence or neglect of the state and its security and military institutions, and the number of powerful factions waiting for the right moment to pounce on their rivals and exploit their patron's reduced capacity to contain things.
With or without the American withdrawal, the contradictions of the forces within the ruling Coordination Framework have risen to the surface. As soon as the idea of withdrawal was raised, leading Jihadists and resistance figures hesitated to press forward, raising doubts about this bloc’s capacity to remain united in the near term. Meanwhile, the State Administration Coalition has lost its raison d’etre after the Coordination Framework forces decided to sideline the strongest Sunni representative and consistently threatened Erbil... Much remains to be seen.