“I doubt they will withdraw completely this year. First, Iraq needs the continued support of the Coalition and that will only be provided if the US is in Iraq. Second, the US announced it will be pulling out some troops but not all to assist with the anti-Daesh mission. Third, eventually the US will withdraw all troops from Iraq but it is a matter of timing and balance with the security and political issues at hand,” Sajad Jiyad told IQNA in an interview.
Sajad Jiyad is a visiting fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Jiyad is an Iraqi political analyst based in Baghdad. He is the former Managing Director of the Al-Bayan Center, an Iraqi policy institute. Sajad's main focus is on public policy and governance in Iraq and he also works on capacity building of public institutions and civil society organizations through conferences, workshops and training programs. Frequently published and cited in media as an expert commentator, Sajad is also partnered with a number of international organizations and think tanks to provide ground-level research on Iraq and solutions for development-related issues. Sajad’s educational background is in Economics and Politics, and Islamic Studies.
Following is the full text of the interview:
IQNA: After the assassination of Iranian top commander Lt. General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, the pressure to withdraw American troops from Iraq increased, and now we see the new Iraqi government has officially called for the withdrawal of the US military from the country. How do you evaluate these developments?
Jiyad: American troops will be drawdown but I doubt they will withdraw completely this year. First, Iraq needs the continued support of the Coalition and that will only be provided if the US is in Iraq. Second, the US announced it will be pulling out some troops but not all to assist with the anti-Daesh mission. Third, eventually the US will withdraw all troops from Iraq but it is a matter of timing and balance with the security and political issues at hand.
IQNA: Some believe that the withdrawal of US troops will increase insecurity due to the presence of groups like Daesh. What is your opinion?
Jiyad: It is a fact that the Iraqi Security Forces benefit from American assistance, at the moment it extends to a variety of things from logistics to training to weaponry to financial to air support, and Iraq lacks capability in these. If the US withdraws suddenly without an adequate plan to plug the gap in these capabilities then Iraq’s security will suffer, including in the anti-Daesh mission.
IQNA: How do you see the role of countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia after the US withdrawal from Iraq?
Jiyad: It is not clear what Saudi Arabia wants in Iraq, it does not have the capacity nor desire to compete with Iran and the US in terms of influence but it does want stability on its border. For now, the Saudis will wait to see what happens if and when the US withdraws. As for Iran, it will seek to cement its place as the most influential country in Iraq and ensure a friendly government is in place and that its allies and interests are promoted and protected. Iran will be in a stronger position in Iraq when the US withdraws.
IQNA: What is your assessment of the situation in the Iraqi Kurdistan region and its relations with the new Iraqi government?
Jiyad: The Kurdistan Regional Government has an even bigger crisis to deal with and less resources than the federal government. They need to negotiate an agreement with Baghdad around oil and finances which benefits both sides, the status quo cannot continue as both sides are losing out.
IQNA: What is the biggest challenge facing the new Iraqi government?
Jiyad: The economic challenge, including the effects of COVID-19. Just paying public salaries will be a tremendous challenge in the current climate.
IQNA: In general, how do you predict the social and political situation in Iraq after the new Iraqi government took office?
Jiyad: Things will probably become more difficult in the short-term, there is a lot of uncertainty about the capacity of the government and the will of the political class to enact reforms that are desperately needed for Iraq to overcome the current crisis. Protests will likely continue and these have the potential of pitting the people against the state and lead to much social upheaval in the coming years.
Interview by Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi.