By Mostafa Afzalzadeh
April 15, 2020 “Information Clearing House” – Matthew Hoh is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Policy. He resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over US strategic policy and goals in Afghanistan in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew served in Iraq; first in 2004-5 in Salah ad Din Province with a State Department reconstruction and governance team and then in 2006-7 in Anbar Province as a Marine Corps company commander. In his extensive interview with Parsi Policy, he explored the chances of a US coup in Iraq and warns of flip-flop policies of White House.
Q: Why do you think the US military structure in Iraq is changing? Is there going to be an attack or a coup in Iraq?
President Trump is surrounded by men and women who want to see the US be the dominant nation, not just in Iraq, the Muslim World or Asia, but across the entire planet.
The US, for more than the last century, has been developing, maintaining and expanding its tools: military, economic, diplomatic, cyber, etc., in order to keep and expand worldwide power and control. Certainly what has occurred politically in Iraq over the last year has alarmed those in the US whose chief concern is the health of the US Empire. However, coronavirus has severely limited the US military’s ability to launch conventional attacks or even to just assemble and mass ground troops.
The US Air Force and Navy are limited in their operations as well due to the pandemic and so a major US military action is unlikely until the pandemic ends or abates. This is not to say the US still can’t act militarily, it can, however it cannot bring the full weight of its forces together at this present time and would most likely have to resort to independent and solitary strikes by disparate forces rather than the combined usage of joint forces and assets that the US military does so well – and which, in turn, brings about truly great destruction, damage and suffering. So yes, the US military can and might launch strikes by aircraft, drones and missiles and may even launch commando strikes, but an operation meant to truly have a destructive effect on Iraqi, Iranian or Syrian forces will have to wait until the pandemic is over.
A coup is certainly possible and likely. There are many in the Iraqi government who will align with the US is such is a decision is forced. However, such a decision being forced will probably fall along ethnic lines, with a few outliers among individuals, organizations and tribes, and a replay of the Iraqi civil war of the first decade of the 21st century is possible; this time possibly more with Kurdish involvement as the US would hope to incite a Kurdish uprising in Iran.
The idea a joint Sunni-Kurdish alliance (however doubtful it may actually be, US policy makers at various levels, and from both parties, believe it is possible) could somehow seize control of Baghdad is far-fetched, and, of course, the criminal suffering of the Iraqi people from the 2003 US invasion and the horrendous consequences of that invasion continue to be absent from the thoughts, rhetoric and logic of most of the US foreign policy, military, political and media establishments.
So, a coup, as disastrous as most non-US observers would predict, is something that might happen in Baghdad, especially if it is felt the US has reached a level of lost influence, control or credibility. While the idea the US maintains any credibility as an actor of moral, benevolent or effective intentions in its foreign and military policies is quite rightly regarded as absurd outside the US, inside the US such things are said without any trace of humility or honesty.
President Trump, maybe the most malleable president the US has ever had, swings from listening to the defenders of US Empire, to include many who financially back his political campaign, to listening to his own instincts. In this case his instincts on US military action and US regime change are correct, unlike most of his other instincts, impulses and beliefs. However, with the coming election and the pandemic, President Trump might want something to distract voters in the US. Among the US political community it is believed being a president during wartime is helpful for re-election, so I fear President Trump may be swayed by both his foreign policy and his election advisors and push for a coup or war.
Q: What will be the outcome if the US invades the resistance forces in Iraq? What will be the response of the resistance forces to this possible attack?
You will see the same response from Iraqis you saw from 2003-2012: mass and popular resistance to an occupying and foreign force. The US will try and weaken such resistance, as it always does, by playing sects against each other. In this case going back to the Sunni vs Shia warfare, while trying to bring the Kurds in against the Shia.
US planners and politicians have a very simplified and Manichean view of the world and so they think that anything they feel might harm Iran is worthwhile, justified and ultimately effective. In this case that means the US further aligning with Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq to harm the political control of the Shia allies of Iran, even if that means the US goes to the side of the Islamist State and al-Qaeda, which the US and its allies in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, UAE and Israel did in Syria, and even if all historical evidence demonstrates such a policy will fail.
I should note dividing people by sect, religion, tribe, ethnicity, etc. is a common practice in US warfare going back hundreds of years through the subjugation of the Native American peoples.
Yes, it is a violation of Iraqi law, however the US does not believe in other nations’ sovereignty and it does not believe in international law. It cites sovereignty and international law when it is of benefit to the US or to its allies, but the US, under any administration, Republican or Democrat, does not follow norms of sovereignty or international law as a matter of principle.Q: Americans are trying to launch a Patriot missile defence system for their military bases in Iraq, while the Iraqi government has not allowed that. Isn’t this a blatant violation of Iraqi law?
Q: One of the main reasons cited by the Americans for installing the Patriot system in Iraq is the Iranian missile attack in response to the killing of Commander Qassem Soleimani at the military base Eain al-Assad. What is your opinion?
I am actually surprised it took so long for the US to install such air defence systems in Iraq, as they have had these systems previously in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It shows to me two things: 1. The US when it killed General Soleimani was operating disjointedly and so parts of the US military, including those in Iraq, were unaware of what other parts of the US military was doing. This shows to me the assassination was much more of a CIA operation than it was a military operation.
- US decision makers are not concerned with the safety of their own soldiers. Rather than making sure their soldiers would be safe from an attack from Iranian forces, US officials conducted an act of war against Iran not seeming to care US soldiers in Iraq, where a retaliation strike would most likely take place, had the equipment and weapons needed to protect themselves.
Q: After the assassination of Soleimani in Iraq, the situation for the US presence in Iraq has become worse.
Yes, it shows that the people who make such decisions, such as the assassination of the top generals of other nations, act on impulse and emotion rather than logic and calculation. Rather than think what might happen next, what the second and third order effects of such an assassination would be, how the Iraqis would respond, etc., US officials saw a chance to murder someone they dislike, fantasized about the media coverage and the space it would fill in their memoirs, and chose to do act rather than understand and weigh consequences.
That the world is aflame from western Africa to Pakistan because of failed, barbarous and stupid US military decisions is a larger reflection of the decision making behind the assassination of General Soleimani. US officials are motivated by personal beliefs and ideologies, including maintenance of the US Empire, their own personal and institutional legacies, by the profits for weapons industries, and by what plays best with a US media and public that routinely cheers for war..
Q: With the Iraqi Parliament’s vote on the withdrawal of US troops do you think this demand will be met?
No, I don’t think so. The US will overthrow Iraq’s parliament, most likely by causing Sunni and Kurdish constituencies, and some Shia, to boycott the political system, cause political problems and conduct violence, even if it means a return to the violence of 2003-2009, before the US leaves. I hope I am wrong in this estimation, but there is little evidence from US actions overseas, going back 150 years or more, to believe something different.