Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani defended the US military presence in his country during an interview this Sunday.
This Sunday evening and during his first US interview since taking power in October, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani signaled a less confrontational posture of Iraq against the United States by defending the continuation of the presence of US troops in his country and setting up no timetable for their withdrawal.
Referring to the US and NATO troops who train and assist Iraqi units in countering ISIS, Sudani said that “foreign forces provide important logistical support in combatting ISIS pockets in Syria”, and that “we think we need the foreign forces because elimination of ISIS needs some more time.”
The words of Sudani were shocking and unexpected mostly because until now, he has been publicly silent about his views on keeping US forces in Iraq, saying only that he would consult Iraqi commanders on the matter.
But Sudani’s Sunday interview could also jeopardize Iraq’s relations with other neighboring countries that oppose the US military presence in the region, especially including Iran. After all, Iran is a key ally for Iraq and Baghdad is heavily dependent on Tehran for energy because Iran is the main provider of natural gas and electricity for Iraq.
The United States has about 2,000 troops stationed in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces but largely stay out of combat. NATO also has several hundred troops there, also with a noncombat role and only to train Iraqi troops.
The Pentagon has stepped up raids against Islamic State in Syria, with at least 10 operations last month. In Iraq, there were four major attacks believed to have been carried out by the group in December, leaving at least 14 Iraqi soldiers and police officers and 11 civilians dead.
Sudani is dangerously playing double standards
Sudani’s red carpet for foreign troops in Iraq, which is not a pleasant at all in the eyes of Iran, is in drastic contradiction with his previous stance on enforcing and increasing ties between Baghdad and Tehran, especially considering the deeply-rooted animosity that exists between Iran and the US.
During his latest visit to Tehran back in November, Sudani hailed “deeply rooted” and “historic” bilateral relations between Iran and Iraq, pledging to “boost economic, political and security co-operation” with Tehran.
His newly stated remarks about the continuation of US troops in Iraq, however, clearly contradicts his yearn for expanding ties with Iran. To make matters even worse, Sudani recently used the official name of the tournament as “Arabian Gulf Cup” at the opening ceremony of the football tournament of the Persian Gulf countries in the Iraqi port of Basra, which sparked strong criticism from Iranian officials.
But Iran’s protest to the move didn’t make Sudani to retreat. On the contrary, he defended calling the “Arabian Gulf” instead of the Persian Gulf in a statement on January 24, noting that “he does not want to get into these issues, but the Arabian Gulf is a historical fact.”
Sudani is well aware of the fact that under his role, Iraq is facing several economic, political, and territorial crises. However, what he seems to be ignorant of is that he cannot play double standards in his approach to Iran and the US at the same time. This is simply because the US-Iran conflict is way deeper than what Sudani, who obviously has little international experience, thinks of, and is therefore far from being settled down through his mediation.
Last but not least, he must sooner or later choose between siding either with Washington or with Tehran, not a middle ground in between.