US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson speaks during a joint press conference with Jordanian foreign minister in Amman on February 14, 2018. (AFP Photo)
BAGHDAD, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- The United States is prolonging its presence in Iraq as part of its strategy to strengthen its role in the Middle East as tension is running high amid bloody regional conflicts, experts said.
The United States is seeking to maintain its supremacy regionally and internationally, despite the territorial defeat of Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq.
"An Iranian-dominated Iraq is undermining U.S. plans in the country which it had invaded in 2003, and the Iranian influence can be used as a dangerous conduit into the Arab countries allied to the United States," Ibrahim al-Ameri, an Iraqi analyst told Xinhua.
"Therefore, the Americans are keen to keep their troops in Iraq to maintain what they view as key regional balances of power," Ameri said.
The United States, unilaterally, bypassed the United Nations Security Council and led a coalition to invade Iraq, claiming that the country was hiding weapons of mass destruction and supported terrorists. Their real motive was actually to topple the anti-U.S. Saddam Hussein regime.
One of the consequences of the war on Iraq was stirring sectarian Sunni-Shiite conflict, which threatened the regional countries and created a wider conflict between the Shiites led by Iran and Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia.
"The Americans are keen to keep their forces in Iraq and in the region, in order to keep the rhythm of the conflict under control. As a result, they can get concessions from the regional countries to drain their wealth," Ameri concluded.
Nadhum al-Jubouri, a political analyst, agreed that Iran's increasing influence in Iraq and in the region is one of the most important challenges that faces the U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
"Washington strategy is giving large attention to the Iranian role in the Middle East, including in Iraq, and as it is the closest ally to Saudi Arabia, its presence in Iraq would make Washington at the core of the regional conflict and would certainly give more power to Riyadh," Jubouri said.
"Washington intends to confront Iran's influence in Iraq which represents a threat to its strategic interests in the Middle East, including the flow of oil to the world markets," he said.
The standoff between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq would increase the possibility facing the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, who are hard to be controlled by the Iraqi government.
Jubouri also said "one of the challenges that faces the United States in Iraq is the regional conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as Washington is the closest ally to Saudi Arabia and its presence in Iraq would make Washington at the core of the regional conflict, and would certainly give more power to Riyadh."
Hakem al-Zamily, a Shiite lawmaker loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said "the United States is planning to stay long in Iraq, and those who think that the Americans came to maintain security and the political process are wrong."
"The (military) resistance was the reason that forced the Americans to pull out in 2011, not negotiations," Zamily, warning the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of "quickly resolving the U.S. troops presence in Iraq."
The prolonged presence of the U.S. troops in Iraq would be embarrassing for Abadi, who is a leading figure in the Iran-backed Islamic Dawa Party, as he is trying hard to balance his government's rhetoric between the conflicting influences of the United States and Iran on the Iraqi political process.
"Abadi would be embarrassed as the U.S. administration is seeking to keep presence of its troops on the Iraqi soil. It would show him closer to the United States despite his endeavor to hold the stick from the middle in dealing with U.S. and Iranian influences in Iraq," Hisham al-Hashimi, a political analyst and expert in armed groups, told Xinhua.
The presence of U.S. troops would also be embarrassing for the Iraqi Shiite religious leadership, which in turn is ideologically close to the Iranian Shiite leadership.
"The Marji'yah (Shiite religious leadership) in Najaf holy city would also be demanded to give an explanation to the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, otherwise it has to issue a Fatwa (religious order) to resist occupation of U.S. troops," Hashimi said.
However, the U.S. is seeking to exploit the international effort of Iraq's reconstruction as a pretext to claim that its troops are staying in the country to provide stability in the areas liberated from IS militants and to contribute in the reconstruction efforts, according to Hashimi.
"The U.S. officials repeatedly said their new strategy in Iraq would focus on stabilizing the areas which were under IS control, and the return of the displaced people to their houses. In addition to achieving unity of the Iraqi society to bring about social peace," Hashimi said.
The United States is seeking increase of its military and intelligence presence in Iraq's western province of Anbar and the country's northern province of Nineveh to ensure preventing terrorist militant groups from returning to the country from vast rugged areas near the border with Syria, Hashimi added.
The borderline between Iraq and Syria extends to some 600 km in west of the two provinces of Nineveh and Anbar.
According to unofficial reports, the U.S. military increased their troops in Ayn al-Asad airbase in Anbar province, as well as in al-Qayyara airbase in south of Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province.
Hashimi see that the presence of the U.S. forces in western and northwestern Iraq would "cut the road between Iran and Syria.
Hashimi warned that such presence would only mean that a "new conflict is looming as the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq would possibly carry out insurgent attacks against the U.S. troops that would bring the war-torn country back into bloody conflict.