The Death of the U.S.-Iraqi Relationship

Soleimani Wasn’t the Only Casualty of the U.S. Strike in Baghdad

A member of Iraqi security forces walks past the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, January 2020 Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters

The assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani on the outskirts of Baghdad was a major escalation in the conflict between the United States and Iran. But the U.S. drone strike that killed the powerful commander of the Quds Force within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps might claim another casualty as well: the U.S.-Iraqi relationship. Allied with both the United States and Iran, Iraq now finds itself as the frontline battleground for these two foes. 

The precarious state of Washington’s relationship with Baghdad was apparent even before the United States killed Soleimani on January 3. It was thrown into stark relief on New Year’s Eve, when Iraqi security forces looked the other way as hundreds of Iraqi militia supporters attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Embassy staff were kept under lockdown and U.S. Apache helicopters hovered overhead as the pro-Iranian militia supporters breached the outer cordon, burned American flags, ransacked guard posts, and sought to scale the walls before U.S. marines pushed them back with tear gas.

Such a scene would have been difficult to imagine back in 2009, when the U.S. embassy moved out of the Republican Palace and opened its current facility on the banks of the Tigris River. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad was the largest in the world, covering 104 acres and staffed with 12,000 people. It symbolized the high hopes that both countries had for the U.S.-Iraqi relationship. The United States’ reputation had suffered a blow in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, but it recovered somewhat during the troop surge of 2007, when U.S. forces helped defeat al Qaeda in Iraq and bring Iraq’s civil war to an end. By 2009, U.S. forces had largely transferred responsibility to Iraqi security forces, and Iraqis were hopeful that their country was headed in the right direction. But then everything unraveled.

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad was the largest in the world, symbolizing the high hopes

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