Intel: Why Iraqi Kurdistan may be wary of hosting US troops

al-monitor US Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks to US troops at a US military facility at Erbil International Airport in Erbil, Iraq Nov. 23, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris

@brykharris_ALM

Topics covered

qasem soleimani, us-iran escalation, us-iraqi relations, us influence, us military, us military bases, iraqi kurdistan, krg

Jan 8, 2020

Torn between Iran and the United States, former Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani appeared to distance himself on Tuesday from Republican proposals to station US troops in Kurdish territory should Baghdad move forward with threats to expel the Americans in the aftermath of Washington’s assassination of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani.

“If the process of resolving the current issue in the Middle East region is in accordance to a path of reason and wisdom, we are certainly ready to cooperate,” Barzani tweeted. “However, we cannot be involved in any proxy wars.”

Why it matters: After the Iraqi Parliament voted Sunday to expel US forces and all other foreign troops in the country, Republican lawmakers in Washington began floating Iraqi Kurdistan as a future location to station American troops.

“There remains an option that our presence in what is currently Iraq would be at the behest of the Kurds,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters on Monday. “In the end, I don’t think it’s going to come to that because I think the Sunnis — and especially the Kurds — would want us to stay even if it’s in the northern part of the country at their invitation.”

While the Kurdistan Regional Government may be open to hosting US troops in exchange for Washington’s recognition of it as an independent Kurdish state, Barzani’s tweet is indicative of the tightrope he must walk as Tehran and Washington compete for influence over the autonomous Iraqi territory. 

What’s next: President Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday to respond to the Iranian missile attacks on US forces with sanctions but stopped short of announcing military retaliation. Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke briefly after Tuesday’s missile attacks and “agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops,” according to a State Department readout of the call.

It also remains unclear whether Baghdad will actually move forward with threats to expel US forces from the country amid questions over the extent of caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s powers.

Know more: Al-Monitor’s senior correspondent Amberin Zaman has the inside story on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s deliberations over whether it would be open to hosting US forces.