Should US Troops Protect Iraqis in the Fight Against ISIL?

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Salam Zidan – Yalla – Baghdad

The recent call by the Sunni Union of National Forces for the deployment of US troops in the country has been controversial, with many Iraqis believing that their own security forces are adequately equipped to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“The call for the deployment of US troops in Iraq was made to increase the number of the fighting fronts and strengthen fronts where security forces have been weakened, and to combat the growing influence of militias that have exploited some areas,” Mohammed Al-Karbouli, member of the Union of Forces, told Yalla. “The objective of this call is to liberate the land and increase security in all areas.”

With around 3,600 US personnel currently training Iraqi troops and providing other military assistance, Mr. Al-Karbouli believes Iraqi forces should be taking greater advantage of what could be a powerful military asset.

“There is an international Coalition led by the US and a number of US military consultants are present in the military bases of Ayn al-Asad and Habbaniya,” he said. “This should make us examine how we can benefit from them to clean Iraq of ISIL and the militias.”

While US officials put the number of troops in the hundreds rather than the thousands, the country’s Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, stated on Thursday 21 January that the number “will increase significantly with the increasing momentum’’ of the war against ISIL.

The Kurdish Coalition also supports a deployment of US troops, though the Kurdish list’s deputy leader, Muhsin Sa’dun, told Yalla that he does not believe the decision on troop deployment actually rests in the hands of Iraqis.

“The US will decide it after Congress enacts a strategy for fighting ISIL that allows it to intervene in any country,” he said. “The US presence in Iraq is a reality, with 3,500 soldiers here in addition to those in the US Embassy and the Special Forces that carry out secret missions. The US and the international Coalition also controls Iraqi airspace.”

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An American soldier trains an Iraqi at Taji Barracks

The Iraqi Government has so far refused to agree on any deployment of land forces to fight ISIL.

“The recent call for the deployment of American troops in Iraq does not represent the Union of Forces but an individual position of one of its members,” Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesperson for President Haider al-Abadi, told Yalla. “The Government’s position is clear. We refuse any foreign presence in Iraq, though we do need support, commitment, consultation and coordination with our allies.”

He stressed that recent successes for the Iraqi armed forces showed their capabilities in fighting ISIL.

“The achievement of liberating Ramadi is evidence of the capabilities of the security forces,” he said, calling on the international community to “help the security forces with training, armament and air cover to liberate [occupied] areas.”

Wathiq al-Hashimi, the President of the Iraqi Institute for Strategic Studies, also called for support for Iraqi forces as they continue to achieve victories. He said talk of the necessity deploying American troops was a reactive policy lacking a grasp of recent political experience.

“Iraq’s problems can only be resolved by its people, especially since the strategy of US president Barack Obama rejects intervention on the ground,” he said. “Allowing US intervention would lead to interventions by Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”

Meanwhile, Al-Karbouli added that he believes Iraqi politicians’ opposition to the Union of Forces’s call is short-sighted and poses a danger to the country.

“The critics towards the call for the presence of the US troops in Iraq are those who brought occupation upon us in 2003,” he said, adding: “Thousands of Iraqis are dying for the sake of liberating a few metres from the control of ISIL.”

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