Nearly 20 years after the US invasion, the Iraqi officials lamenting the loss of sovereignty today are the same ones who contributed to its demise.
Since the administration of former US President Donald Trump, we have been hearing ever louder clamours from senior Iraqi politicians for Iraq’s sovereignty to be respected and for a timetable to be agreed for the total withdrawal of all American troops from the country.
Following three sets of airstrikes by the present Joe Biden administration, these calls have ramped up with Iraq even declaring it was exploring its “legal options” to finally eject the US presence.
On the face of it, this sounds like a perfectly rational, even patriotic, demand. Yet before we laud this move, we have to look at who is making these demands – none other than the men the White House decided to put into power in 2003.
Popular Mobilisation Forces and the Iraqi military
The background to this latest squabble is, of course, Biden’s decision last weekend to bomb Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayid al-Shuhada – both closely tied to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – causing five militant deaths.
The White House justified its attack as a self-defence strike against groups that had been continuously firing rockets at American troops and using cheap-yet-effective Iranian-made drones to attack sensitive military sites, including a CIA base, inside Iraq last April.
Interestingly, these militias are designated as terrorists by the US government. Even more interesting is that these militias are also component formations of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella organisation of dozens of largely Iran-backed Shia militant groups, which is itself a component of the Iraqi armed forces as ratified by the Iraqi parliament in two votes in 2016 and 2017.
By attacking these militants, the United States effectively engaged in an act of war against Iraq by bombing and killing members of its armed forces both inside Iraqi territory and extraterritorially by striking their bases in the eastern Syrian desert.
Kadhimi has now sought legal advice and has, alongside a broad range of other politicians, denounced the Americans’ actions as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty while saying absolutely nothing about Iran’s rampant violations that occur daily, including through infiltration of the military.
Iraqi sovereignty is sloganeering
Sovereignty is an interesting political and international legal concept. It effectively means that a specific government or state (perhaps representing a succession of governments) enjoys exclusive control over the social, legal and other affairs of a particular territory.
Working with that brief definition, there can be no doubt that the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the greatest violation of Iraqi sovereignty in modern Iraqi history, and particularly since the end of the British Empire’s occupation in 1947, where a nominally “independent” Iraq was militarily controlled and used as a transit hub to facilitate Britain’s reach into its remaining colonial assets.
To give a pretence of legality, George W Bush and Tony Blair – the respective leaders of the United States and United Kingdom at the time – embarked upon a wholesale campaign of lies, falsified intelligence and plagiarism of speculative doctoral theses to hoodwink the international community into believing that the Baathist regime under Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of Al Qaeda and possessed a programme to arm itself with weapons of mass destruction.
Both men knew they were lying. Some countries even opposed their belligerent escalations, notably France and Germany, with former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin delivering a famous speech against the war.
Even the late Nelson Mandela, who became a symbol of the fight against racial oppression, denounced the US as “a threat to world peace”. In any event, the unholy alliance failed to achieve a United Nations resolution in favour of war against Iraq.
Nevertheless, the British government trotted out a number of largely Shia Islamist and Kurdish separatist groups who were at the time operating in exile in the UK, and offered them up to the Bush administration as a government-in-waiting.
Fast forward more than 18 years, and millions of Iraqi lives destroyed, and these same Shia Islamists are the ones who are now outraged about Iraqi sovereignty being violated.
It is truly remarkable that they and their allies had absolutely no regard for Iraqi sovereignty less than two decades ago but were instead cynical participants of one of the gravest crimes of aggression the modern world has ever seen simply to ensure they could depose Saddam and take his place.
It is not as though they brought democracy, but instead they have presided over one of the most kleptocratic, murderous and oppressive regimes in the entire Middle East today.
Now that their interests are so tightly intertwined with Iran’s, suddenly they have rediscovered the notion of Iraqi sovereignty and are incensed that it should be violated.
The sick irony is, of course, that were it not for these men, their avarice and their lust for power, the concept of Iraqi sovereignty may still have some sort of meaning.
As it currently stands, however, discussion and talk of Iraqi sovereignty is nothing more than political sloganeering and grandstanding as all comers – whether Iran, the US or a plethora of other interested parties – violate Iraq’s national will and self-determination on a daily basis with the assistance of a corrupt political elite who serve foreign paymasters rather than the Iraqi people.
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