“They see that their strategically (the U.S.) is gradually withdrawing and that Biden has even frozen large arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the (United Arab) Emirates,” Ali Fahim tells the Tehran Times.
After Donald Trump ordered assassination of General Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020, many Iraqi political groups and resistance groups have called for the expulsion of U.S. forces from the Iraqi territory and the region.
However, some Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf region prefer the U.S. to continue its presence and support their governments.
While Biden is going to withdraw some parts of U.S. antimissile batteries from West Asia, Iran is planning to consolidate its ties with Russia and China. This is a move that certain Arab states in the Persian Gulf are unhappy about it.
Following is the text of the interview with Ali Fahim:
Q: Could you update us about the latest developments regarding an exit of the U.S. forces from Iraq?
A: It is obvious that America does not intend to pull out of Iraq at the present time, despite the Iraqi parliament’s explicit decision calling for exit of all foreign forces from Iraqi lands, which was supported by popular demonstrations all around the country.
This is what Commander of the United States Central Command, General Kenneth F. McKenzie, explicitly said a couple of months ago. He emphasized that American forces would not withdraw from Iraq but there would be a reduction of military forces.
He also said that the remaining forces would work to monitor and confront any move from Iran in the future, and there has been a redeployment of American forces to other areas in Iraq, which parallels withdrawals from several bases in Taji and a-Qaim on the Syrian border.
In his visit to Washington, al-Kazemi urged former American President Donald Trump to complete withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq within three years, but that goal failed to be translated into reality due to Trump’s defeat in elections in 2020.
After coming to power, Joe Biden showed that he has new plans and priorities that differ from Trump’s.
His first step was increasing NATO forces in Iraq in order to train the Iraqi army. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that “the number of NATO forces will gradually increase from 500 to about 4,000, and they will be deployed out of Baghdad.”
Pentagon spokesperson Commander Jessica McNulty said on February 19, “The U.S. is participating in the force generation process for NATO Mission Iraq and will contribute its fair share to this important expanded mission.”
Meanwhile, John Kirby, the assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs wrote in a post on his Twitter account that “we support NATO’s expanded mission in Iraq and will continue to do so, but there are no plans to increase U.S. force levels there.”
In a related context, the Daily Mail quoted military sources as saying that the international coalition forces intend to increase their soldiers’ number in Iraq to 5,000.
The newspaper said that hundreds of British soldiers would be sent to Iraq in the largest increase of British forces there since the last (Persian) Gulf War.
All of this comes within a new policy adopted by the Biden administration to organize priorities in confrontation with the United States’ supposed enemies.
A couple of days ago, the Wall Street Journal said that U.S. President Joe Biden directed the Pentagon to begin removing some military capabilities and forces from the (Persian) Gulf region in the first steps of an effort to realign the U.S. global military footprint away from West Asia.
The newspaper added that the U.S. has removed at least three Patriot antimissile batteries from the (Persian) Gulf region, including one from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia that had been put in place in recent years to help protect American forces.
The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the number of American forces in West Asia reached 90,000 during the tension with Iran in 2018, revealing that Washington decided to maintain the (THAAD) air defense missile system in the region, stressing that Washington is moving its equipment in order to confront Russia and China because they are the most important threat.
In recent weeks, it revealed that the Pentagon assembled a “tiger team”—an ad hoc group of defense policy and military experts—to find ways to help the oil-rich kingdom protect its facilities and oil installations.
This is a strategic shift in the U.S. approaches in Biden’s presidency that differs from Trump’s previous vision.
This is what Biden pledged in his election campaign, although it did not refer to reducing the military presence in Syria and Iraq or a complete withdrawal from the (Persian) Gulf, but reducing them in West Asia and directing them to other regions within a strategic change plan.
In Biden’s priorities plan confronting the Chinese dragon, West Asia is no longer important for Washington as it was in the past as America is now able to secure oil from other resources.
This is why America’s allies in the region are worried about, especially the (Persian) Gulf monarchies, while China is establishing a comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran that extends 25 years in which it envisions great cooperation in military and infrastructure fields.
They see that their strategically (the U.S.) is gradually withdrawing and that Biden has even frozen large arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the (United Arab) Emirates.
Biden’s move is disappointing in the face of their supposed enemy (Iran).
Q: How do you read al-Kazemi’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia?
A: Al-Kazemi’s visit to Saudi Arabia came after several visits by diplomatic, military and ministerial delegations. These visits rose dramatically after al-Kazemi’s visit to Washington and the Iraqi government’s shift towards Riyadh under American pressure and push Iraq into what is called the “Arab embrace”.
This move has an economic nature in the first place, preceded by the opening of the Arar border crossing, then the Jumima border port in the Samawah desert, which was part of a large investment project to be taken by Saudi Arabia, but it was temporarily postponed due to popular objections.
These visits are aimed to repair Saudi Arabia’s image in the minds of the Iraqi people, who used to regard Saudis’ moves with great suspicion for their bitter experience about Saudi sponsorship of terrorism in Iraq.
Iraqis never forget their bloody history that was characterized by Saudis sending thousands of suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Iraqi markets, schools and mosques and left thousands of victims. In Baghdad, you can hardly find a family that was not affected by the crimes of the takfiri groups.
Then they opened the chapter of ISIS, which threatened the Iraqi sovereignty and integrity with the full support of Saudi Arabia, which allowed the crossing of thousands of Saudi fighters and neglected promises to seize money collected in the mosques to support the fighters in Syria and Iraq.
These all were under the Saudi authorities’ gaze, and the religious discourse was directed to demonize Shias.
Saudi Arabia made every effort to clean this ugly image out of the Iraqi public opinion after the October demonstrations, in which some Iraqi youth supported Saudi Arabia fiercely, blaming Shia parties for the deterioration of the situation in Iraq.
All of this preceded the visit of al-Kazemi, which came to detach Iraq from the resistance axis and pushing it towards the American-Saudi-Israeli axis in preparation for normalization of ties with the latter.
This move is not isolated from other developments, especially Iraqi rapprochement with Jordan and Egypt and pushing Iraq toward entering futile agreements to exhaust its wealth and energy.
However, this trip was important to Saudi Arabia, as it was evident through the great hospitality that the visit received especially escorting the al-Kazemi plane with warplanes and his reception by the Saudi crown prince and artillery firing a 21-gun salute in celebration of al-Kazemi’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
But what was announced about the achievements of the visit were not at the expected level for the two countries.
They announced the establishment of a joint investment fund of only 3 billion dollars. What are the real aspects behind this visit that were not disclosed, especially on the security side? Saudi Arabia has blamed Iraq for missiles and drone strikes on its oil facilities and economic interests, accusing factions close to Iran of targeting Saudi facilities.
Q: Do you expect Iraq to establish strategic relations with Saudi Arabia?
A: Iraq is looking for its interests through establishing relations with all countries of the world, and this is a normal policy. But is the Iraqi political decision based on free will, or is it affected by American interference that tries to push Iraq toward the circle of the Israeli axis?
Certainly, the answer is no. Iraq is not free in its political decision and its government pursues a policy that is neither neutral nor independent but rather sacrifices the interest of Iraq to serve American interests. It was evident in freezing the Iraqi-Chinese agreement, which was considered a lifeline for Iraq by its participation in the Silk Road and reconstructing the large port of Faw and the extension of the railway to Syria, Turkey, and Europe.
But the American veto deprived us of this deal and Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned under the pressure of the demonstrations that paralyzed the country. After the al-Kazemi took up the reins of power, all demonstrations calmed down and ended.
The U.S imposed its hegemony in Iraq in canceling the contract with the German company Siemens in favor of American companies, as the German ambassador in Baghdad stated. So Iraq is relatively deprived of its rights when it cannot make a decision freely while it is free just within limits that it should not cross.
How can we trust in the Iraqi political decision-makers when we are talking about strategic relations that stand on fragile foundations built on the debris of bitter experiences that date back to an 8-year war that Saddam Hussein waged on Iran under the pretext of protecting the eastern gate of the Arab world with direct Saudi payment?
Once King Fahd told Saddam, “We supply the money, and you should provide fighters,” in a statement that shows direct (Persian) Gulf regimes’ support for the former Iraqi dictator. After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, oil prices fell and (Persian) Gulf monarchies asked Iraq to repay its debts, which led to the invasion of Kuwait and then the unjust blockade of Iraq. During the blockade, the Arab borders were completely closed and only the Iranian border was open to Iraqis. If it had not for Iran, the situation of Iraq would have been more tragic than what happened.