President Obama’s declaration of an end of the war in Iraq marks a significant new step in relations between the United States and Iraq. It is not the withdrawal in and of itself which will be deemed a success in the long run, but how the two nations proceed forward during Iraq’s newfound autonomy.
Opponents claim that withdrawal from Iraq opens an opportunity for Iran to impose itself on the affairs of Iraq, and that Iraq could fall into civil war without U.S. troop presence.
However, this decision was ultimately made with the cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq. Iraqis had been calling for U.S. withdrawal for a long time, including Iraqi members of parliament that are firmly anti-Iranian. An open and independent Iraqi government in the end was supportive of U.S. withdrawal.
Although Iran has influence in the country, the U.S. does as well. Iraq is increasingly shutting down Iranian militia groups near the Iranian border and has claimed that any attack on U.S. troops would be considered an attack on Iraq as well. They have further become one of the world’s largest purchasers of U.S. military equipment. This indicates a partnership between the two countries which does not necessitate U.S. troops occupying the country.
Iraqis never believed that U.S. troops in Iraq would deter Iran. Keeping a residual force may have actually had the opposite effect of promoting increased recruitment to Iranian extremist groups.
The overall security of the country has also improved dramatically, with attacks decreasing more and more as responsibility is increasingly given instead to the Iraqi military and police forces for its protection. The basis of many extremist groups to attack U.S. and Iraqi troops has become less and less relevant as U.S. troops have left Iraqi cities over the years and now are preparing to leave entirely. Forcing Iraqis to let foreign troops stay would have had long-term repercussions in the encouragement of extremist groups and the worsening of relations between the two countries.
Although insurgents will continue rebelling and the government still needs to stabilize the political system, these problems would continue regardless of U.S. troop presence. Active relations outside of occupation are necessary for Iraq to handle these long-term problems.
The Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), passed in 2008 under President George W. Bush, sets the basis for international relations with Iraq, tying the countries together through both trade and security. The SFA provides initiatives for counterterrorism and defense. The withdrawal will therefore strengthen ties with the Iraqi military and will not terminate cooperation between the two countries. The withdrawal instead is a step towards assimilating Iraq into the global market.
Moving forward, the end of the Iraq war should be seen as a beginning to strengthened relations. Many Iraqis know nothing of Americans outside of the context of the war. Seeing the war come to an end, they will be able to focus instead on strengthening relations rather than disseminating divisive sentiments with regards to the occupation. This is an honorable end to the war which can increase cooperation going into the future.