Apparently, declarations of victory over ISIL by both Iraq and Syria, along with Iran and Russia, are not having an impact on US military policy in the region, according to Mattis, who insists that “the war is not over.” Which isn’t to say that the US is determined to keep fighting a war against ISIL, as such, but rather that there’s definitely going to be a war against somebody in those countries – and that somebody could be anybody. Mattis in particular has been keen to talk up the idea of an “ISIL 2.0” emerging in areas ISIL has been expelled from.
Mattis’ comments are very interesting in the context of other Pentagon statements, which have insisted that US troops would stay in Iraq and Syria long after the ISIL war has ended. This had long been assumed to be just a quiet, permanent garrisoning of the two countries, particularly controversial in Syria since they openly don’t welcome a US military presence.
Instead, Mattis seems to be presenting this as not just an open-ended deployment, but an open-ended war against an ever-changing collection of enemies. In Syria in particular, this is likely to mean a shift away from the terror proxies (created and backed up by the US allies!) toward pro-government forces and their Iranian-Russian allies. In Iraq, however, the continuation of the war is likely to be very much like the last US occupation of Iraq, fighting with any and all forces that are aligned in opposition to Washington’s occupying regime itself.
And the faulty justifications for the occupation, however, are far from blurred:
– The Iraqi Parliament is on record as being against the US-led military occupation of their country. Moreover, most Iraqis resent Americans occupying their country and the Trump administration’s requests to do it forever by maintaining illegal military bases in their country.
– In the future, as now, Americans in Iraq (American troops, contractors and private security guards) would try to impose full immunity for their criminal actions, even when they steal, rape, kidnap, torture, or murder Iraqis, and arrest Iraqis and put them in American-run jails. Moreover, the American occupiers would do their best to have key Iraqi departments as well as armament contracts, under their supervision for many more years, keep control of Iraqi airspace, maintain permanent military bases in the country, and retain the right to strike from within Iraqi territory any country they consider to be a threat to their so-called security or contrary to US interests.
– Anyone in his right mind knows that it’s too much. That’s why political and religious leaders, like Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, won’t sit on their hands. He might even issue a religious fatwa against the Trump White House, a move that would likely kill future prospects for the US to occupy Iraq permanently. After all, the US military occupation of post-ISIL Iraq is doubly illegitimate, besides having been illegal from day one according to international law. First, a solid majority of Americans want American soldiers out of Iraq. Second, all Iraqis also want American soldiers out of their country.
The irony is that the Trump-Mattis regime pretends to be in Iraq for the sake of “fighting terror”, while they trample on people’s demands both in Iraq and in the United States. This is not what they call fighting the Real War on Terror. This is about fascism and imperialism! In the prevailing circumstances, all that remains for the people of Iraq and the United States is to ensure that will never happen, that the Trump-Mattis regime will never succeed on these dangerous fronts.
The permanent occupation of Iraq is likely to have the opposite effect. It will serve as a recruiting poster for terrorist groups. Using the country for posing threat to its neighbours won’t be justified under international law either. It will be perceived throughout the Islamic world and beyond as aggressive US imperialism. That perception will be intensified if the US occupies post-ISIL Iraq permanently and takes control of the country’s oil resources. As far as intimidating Iraq’s neighbours is concerned, countries such as Iran and Syria won’t sit on their hands either. The warmongers are pretty much in the know that threatening, much less attacking, Iran and Syria directly would be an act of suicide. It might trigger war between the United States and Russia as well.
But the choice of James Mattis for secretary of defense and many other pro-Israel cabinet members indicates that President Trump remains committed to trying this disastrous direction.