Beyond the Parallels, Iraq’s Direct Repercussions from Afghanistan

Beyond the Parallels, Iraq’s Direct Repercussions from Afghanistan
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Despite proclaimed negotiated agreements, summer 2021 witnessed a takeover by the Taliban upon the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the immediate collapse of the Afghan government and its US-trained army in Kabul and other Afghan provinces. The events in Afghanistan presented alarming developments to neighboring Pakistan and Iran, and also transnationally beyond to Iraq.

There are two common ways of relating Afghanistan’s latest events with current Iraq; comparisons and direct influences. The latter has received less attention than the former.

Comparative approach:

Starting with the similarities, the fear of a similar US military withdrawal from Iraq is apparent amongst Iraqis even prior to the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover. Iraq’s current is shadowed by pro-Iran militant influence and a possible DAESH resurgence with the extremist group’s recent attacks in Iraq. The fall of the Afghan state and the defeat of the Afghan army reminisced Iraq’s memory in 2014 when its armed and police forces collapsed against the offensive led by DAESH in Mosul.

Many Iraqis are also concerned that the US military withdrawal will occur with Iran's pressure on the Iraqi government by calling for it and its aligned militias attacking US military personnel and diplomatic amenities.

Another major parallel between the government of Iraq and the toppled government of Afghanistan is their priority of patronage politics over competent security force governance and other government services,” as quoted by Bilala Wahab, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Nevertheless, Wahab outlines various features in today's Iraq that would allegedly limit the chances of a US withdrawal from Iraq, and that is, to support the anti-DAESH coalition and inability to ignore Iran's expansionist agenda. Moreover, many local stakeholders in Iraq are increasingly apparent in its role to curb Iranian-backed militia rule–a protest movement; a clerical rival to Qom in Najaf; increasingly outspoken Kurdish and Sunni politicians towards the consequences from a US military withdrawal; and in contrast to Taliban, Iraq's militias lack a collective leadership and similar popularity.

Inspiring transnational Jihadists:

Moving to the direct implications towards Iraq, Taliban victory restored to jihadist groups and organizations the spirit that had been taken from them by the defeat of DAESH in Iraq and Syria as per Marwan Kabalan, Director of Policy Analysis at the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies. Taliban promotes its takeover as a victory against US imperialism despite resulting from their agreements with the US on the withdrawal.

The Taliban media appearance on its takeover of various provinces also recalled many Iraq observers on its similarities with DAESH take over in 2014– a movement that is allegedly moving its sleeping cells in today’s Iraq.

In contrast to the above point, the Taliban revival is closer to contemporary tribalism than a global Jihadism promoting itself to united an Islamic Ummah– and so is terrorism across the Middle East and West Asia, it is local more than international. The Global War on Terrorism, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and both military involvements and sudden withdrawals by failed US foreign policies in the Middle East have caused deeper realities of complexities for the victim countries to terrorism.

Pro-Iran militias and the ‘withdrawal’ campaign:

Moving away from DAESH– which lacks a similar political and military influence and momentum it enjoyed in the past, the pro-Iran militias are the real threats to the Iraqi state and civil society following a US military withdrawal. The Iran-backed militias have been openly promoting and campaigning for the departure of the US foreign troops through various forms of pressures and interest groups– parliamentary calls, media and social media propaganda, and targeting foreign embassies, diplomatic amenities, and military bases.

Erbil-based journalist Paul Iddon reports Iraq's militias' take on Taliban's takeover as, “The principal lesson… If they can hold out long enough against the enemy’s superior technology and firepower, the latter will eventually grow weary and withdraw, leaving its client regimes to crumble.”

Yet, the counter-argument to the above is also valid. If the fear of pro-Iran militias to plan a similar takeover resembling Taliban’s, then it's worth noting that the militias are much more integrated and involved into Iraq's political and security apparatus, unlike the Taliban prior to its recent takeover.

Also, a Taliban revival was dependent on a US absence – whereas, in Iraq, pro-Iran militias can still function, move, and expand amidst the US presence with Iran's support and guidance.

Afghan refugees to settle in Iraq:

If accurate, this is the most alarming element of a direct implication from Afghanistan’s events to Iraq. According to Shafaq News, informed sources, circulated news about a proposal to Iraq to settle Afghan refugees in Iraqi territory. The proposal is allegedly put forward by the GCC states during the Baghdad summit. Baghdad would, in return, receive financial aid, and particularly $1 billion as a first payment for receiving the first batch of Afghan refugees, which should be a total of 10,000 according to the reported speculations.

“The GCC countries pushed this proposal as a request to al-Kadhimi in return for their political support to the Baghdad summit,” stated Mazen al-Zaydi, an Iraqi writer, known for being critical to al-Kadhimi’s government, yet defensively supportive of Iran’s role in Iraq during an interview with Iraq’s UTV Channel on Adnan al-Taie’s show, titled ‘Al-Haq Yuqal’.

During the same interview, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, Karim al-Nuori's response to the circulated reports was that their ministry is not aware of any of the proposed claims by the show’s topic which discussed the settlement of Afghans in Iraq – without officially denying it, to the extent that Taie had to intervene and ask him to provide official information instead of analysis.

According to the same sources, Iran welcomed this proposal if it meant the settlement of Shia Afghan refugees, in particular to the Sunni-majority province of Anbar. Iraq observers and watchers view such an act and particularly with Iran’s involvement through three angles – distancing the Afghan Shias that are mostly known as Hazaras from Iran’s responsibility; repeating a strategy previously conducted by Saddam Hussein when he utilized Mujahedin Khalq as his Iran proxy in the early 1990s, and here Iran would benefit from a long-term proxy community in a geopolitically sensitive area near the Iraqi-Syrian borders; and a demographic change to Iraq’s largest Sunni province.

Moving forward:

It might take time for one to realize Iraq’s direct repercussions from the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, yet certain current elements can help us identify some of the upcoming developments. The most dominant factor here is US involvement. The US is significantly blamed for its withdrawal and its inability to re-build a country it invaded for a long time – and this blame is not distant from its actions and failures in Iraq. Both Iraq and Afghanistan were and are still drained by US-installed corrupt political classes that are allegedly way too damaging than the current US current military roles. Additionally, Baghdad and Kabul have learned in different ways that the US is an unreliable partner– and re-building the state institutions and armed forces to reach self-reliance must be the main focus of all policies moving forward.