U.S. troops are on their way out of Syria. In Afghanistan, a similar drawdown, perhaps even a permanent exit, is in the offing as peace talks with the Taliban continue. On February 2, U.S. President Donald Trump turned his attention to a third crucible of conflict in the region: Iraq.
This time, however, rather than talk of a drawdown, Trump argued in an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation that U.S. troops should remain in Iraq—not just to continue to fight the Islamic State, or ISIS, but to “watch Iran.” U.S. bases in Iraq, Trump suggested, would serve as outposts for monitoring Tehran’s activities relating to “nuclear weapons or other things.”
Trump’s comments are reckless. They reflect a misguided obsession with Iran and portray Iraq as little more than a pawn in the United States’ Iran policy. Such rhetoric is poison for Washington’s relationship with Baghdad—one of the last remaining anchors for U.S. influence in a region littered with dysfunctional and counterproductive partnerships.
THE VIEW FROM BAGHDAD
The United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the disastrous occupation that followed opened the door to Islamist militancy and sectarianism in the heart of the Arab world, while helping Iran to expand its power. The region—and the world—continues to suffer the consequences. Yet despite this tortured history, Iraq’s leadership remains remarkably open to U.S. diplomatic and security assistance.
One of us recently visited Baghdad and spoke to political leaders from across the political spectrum, including critics of U.S. policy in Iraq. Many of these leaders expressed the hope that Washington would continue to support the Iraqi government in its efforts to improve security and build state institutions. U.S. signals intelligence, above all, is invaluable to the Iraqis; no other source can provide the satellite imagery and overwatch to monitor potential new ISIS beachheads. With American help in counterterrorism and intelligence collection, Iraqi leaders surmise, the Iraqi government can defeat insurgents and grow
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