The United States seems increasingly resigned to the fact that a pro-Iranian and increasingly pro-Russia government in Baghdad is not going to tolerate the presence of US troops, contractors and mercenaries in the country forever. Russia has begun the delivery of T-90 tanks to Iraq, while Baghdad and Tehran have signed multiple cooperative security agreements. Likewise, Iran and Turkey both cooperated with the Iraqi government in establishing a no-fly zone in northern Iraq during the attempted Kurdish insurgency of September 2017. This Kurdish insurgency was openly encouraged by “Israel” while many suspect that the US covertly offered some degree of political encouragement to secessionist Kurds in spite of public denouncements. The generally pro-Kurd position of the US has only served to further create political hostility between Baghdad and Washington.
The vast majority of Iraqis continue to resent the presence of US troops and officials in their country and while the US will likely maintain a presence in the country for a foreseeable period into the future, Baghdad has today confirmed that the US has begun withdrawing personnel from the country.
This however, is only part of the story. US officials have stated that far from bringing the troops home, US soldiers will be transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan. One of the reasons for this is that due to Iraq’s slow but assured recovery from war and occupation, the Baghdad-Tehran alliance will not be able to be undone without the US fomenting regime change in either Iraq or Iran. Because of this, the US will have increased difficulties in continuing to use Iraq as a place from which to launch provocations against Iran.
Instead, the US has pivoted its anti-Iranian “containment” strategy to Afghanistan. While Iraq’s central government continues to grow stronger, if anything, central authority in Kabul has become weaker since Donald Trump’s “troop surge” which began in November of 2017. This gives US troops a significant amount of free reign in Afghanistan which from their perspective, is a welcome change from the justified public hostility to the US in the vastly more urbanised Iraq.
The US pivot from Iraq to Afghanistan also demonstrates that in light of the US withdrawing “aid” from Pakistan, cancelling security sharing agreements and openly accusing Pakistan of harbouring terrorists, that the US is now more concerned in prohibiting cooperation between Pakistan and Iran than it is in respect of retarding the inevitable and ever growing alliance between Iran, Iraq and Syria, as well as much of Lebanon.
Instead, the US is keen to avert the restoration of an old Iran-Pakistan alliance, which this time would see two countries with an adversarial relationship to the US restart a formerly close partnership. In this sense, while the US remains far more openly hostile to Iran than it is to its former “ally” Pakistan, the US clearly no longer sees Pakistan as a reliable partner, due to Pakistan’s increasing assertiveness in rejecting calls from the US to allow airstrikes and troop movements into Pakistan’s sovereign territory from the Afghan side of the border. Islamabad further stated that any unauthorised US drone activity in its north western frontiers would be dealt with militarily, in a policy which utterly rejects Pakistan’s subservience to the US as typified during the reign of President Musharraf.
From Afghanistan, the US can accomplish several things detrimental to an Iran-Pakistan rapprochement.
–Cut off Afghanistan as a corridor for trade between Iran and Pakistan and for One Belt–One Road more widely.
— Foment anti-Iranian and anti-Pakistan terrorism in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, as well as in Iran’s neighbouring Sistan and Baluchestan Province.
–Attempt to dissuade India from cooperation with Iran by offering New Delhi a cut of the wealth the US continues to plunder from Afghanistan in exchange for a partial withdrawal of Indian investment in the Iranian port at Chabahar.
Finally, even if the US is not able to break the rapidly improving bonds between Islamabad and Tehran, it may still be easier for the US to launch wars of aggression against Iran from its eastern border with Afghanistan than its western border with Iraq.
Of course, in totally, this new US strategy is designed to continually foment chaos along crucial locations on China’s One Belt–One Road trading network. It is no wonder therefore that China is taking an increasingly assertive approach to promoting its preferred dialogue based peace process for Afghanistan, which is a point of attraction for many factions in Afghanistan as well as for China’s close Pakistani partner. Such a peace process which would see the Pashtun Taliban enter discussions with minority factions who dominate Kabul, would also implicitly be in Iran’s interests as both Pakistan and Iran comprise important spaces along One Belt–One Road.
The key for both Pakistan and Iran is to be aware of this new American strategy and enhance security cooperation accordingly. This will require a new realisation that ultimately. the US threatens both country’s interests through its presence in Afghanistan and that suspicions over the recent past, must be replaced by a pragmatic understanding of contemporary security needs in order to face the American threat that is increasingly mutual to both Iran and Pakistan.