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5 Ways U.S. Presence in Iraq Hampers Iran and Islamic Terrorism

In this May 20, 2021, photo Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, arrives in Baghdad. (Lolita C. Baldor/AP)
In this May 20, 2021, photo Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, arrives in Baghdad. (Lolita C. Baldor/AP)

1. Prevents Expansion of Radical Shiite Influence

Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his radical Islamic Shiite supporters, the newly created Islamic Republic of Iran sought to expand Shiite governance throughout the Middle East, creating chaos and disorder. After the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Baathist leader Saddam Hussein, the Islamic Republic sought to clone its success in Iraq just as it did in Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, attacking American forces through Iraqi-terrorist proxies and suicide bombers. Despite the casualties inflicted against Iran, the United States government has targeted Iraqi terrorist networks, sanctioning the Islamic Republic and its Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for supporting terrorist organizations and aiding Kurdish militia groups near Iraq’s border with Iran. Following the death of IRGC-Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani by the Trump administration, Iran has been more cautious in its presence in Iraq, meddling in the Iraqi political sphere and supporting Iraqi leaders who are warm towards Tehran and its goals. In late April this year, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iraq’s President Abdul Latif Rashid that the presence of one American in Iraq is of great concern for Iran, stressing the need for Iraq to dissociate from the US and continue the goal of Shiite expansionism.

2. Protects Israel

With Iran a stone’s throw away from Israel, having US forces in Baghdad prevents the ayatollahs in Iran from marching their troops to Jerusalem to wipe out the Jewish state. Following the 1980 Iran-Iraq war, Iran’s forces vowed to move from Baghdad to Jerusalem, hoping to accomplish the mission created by then-Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to establish an Islamic state. After the toppling of Saddam Hussein in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the creation of new American military bases in Iraq, US forces have been able to prevent the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from owning the country entirely, supporting Kurdish groups to pushback against Iran and prevent the ayatollahs from having another country under their control. If the US was to completely pull out of Iraq as it did in Afghanistan in 2021, the regime in Tehran could turn Iraq into another Lebanon, increasing its support for terrorist proxies and using the country to launch more rocket attacks against Israel, just as Hezbollah has in Lebanon.

3. Protects Saudi Arabia

Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the regime called for the fall of the Saudi Royal monarchy, vowing to reclaim Mecca from the hands of the Saudi Royals and establish an Islamic government in the Gulf Arab state. After the invasion of Iraq, Saudi officials were concerned with Iran’s growing presence in Iraq, given the proximity between Baghdad and Riyadh. With the Iraq-Saudi border 811 km (504 mi) in length, US forces in Iraq prevented the Islamic Republic from marching its forces from Tehran to Baghdad and then to Riyadh. With US troops in Iraq, the US has worked alongside Saudi Arabia next door in countering terrorist initiatives by Iran and other Islamic terrorist groups, preventing arms smuggling operations and engaging in intelligence gathering operations. If American troops withdrew from Iraq, the rich oil country of Saudi Arabia would fall into the hands of the Islamic Republic, granting Ayatollahs the ability to send its forces to Riyadh and have control of the world’s oil supply and greater access to the Persian Gulf than before.

4. Arms Smuggling and Sanctions Roadblock

As countries like China and Russia seek to expand their influence in the Middle East, the presence of American troops hampers attempts by Beijing and Moscow to engage in arms smuggling in the Middle East and acquire weaponry and sell their weaponry to Iran and other Islamic groups. Since the rise of Islamic and non-Islamic terrorism in the Middle East, terrorist groups ranging from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to Iraqi Shiite terrorist fighters have used Iraq as a hub for arms smuggling. After the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iran used Iraq to circumvent economic sanctions from the US and the international community, engaging in oil trade and transporting goods and weapons to Syria and other parts of the Middle East. Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iraqi terrorist groups backed by Iran have tried to send weapons to aid Moscow’s efforts, prompting the US and other countries to place sanctions to prevent such actions. Despite this, the US has collaborated with its allies to stop Iran and other countries from using Iraq to trade arms and evade sanctions, strengthening security at Iraqi ports and sanctioning Iraqi officials for aiding rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

5. Secures America’s Presence in the Middle East

After the Obama administration announced a pullout of American forces from Iraq, the Islamic Republic and other terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda moved in quickly, spreading terrorism, chaos, and disorder in Baghdad. As a result, the US presence in Iraq has helped prevent more terrorism from occurring since then, putting Iran and Islamic groups on alert. As America’s presence in the world continues to decrease and countries like China, Russia, and Iran expand their influence in places like the Middle East, having troops in Iraq has helped the lives of ordinary Iraqis and Kurds from falling prey to the hands of rogue regimes. With Iran continuing its buildup of nuclear material, America’s presence in Iraq grants US officials the ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities and aid Israel in any potential strike against Iran’s underground atomic facilities. Since the years of American counterterrorism campaigns against ISIS and Al Qaeda in Iraq, many of these groups have been nearly wiped out or shrunken, thanks to the US military presence in Baghdad and collaboration with allies. With allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf Arab states facing threats from Iran and other Islamic terrorist groups, a complete pullout of American forces from Iraq would destroy decades of friendships with Arab and Israeli allies.

Related Story: 5 Ways Middle East Changed Since U.S. Entered Iraq 20 Years Ago

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