Washington silent as US-crafted government under fire in Iraq
Baghdad, Iraq - It posted tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, huddled with its leaders and helped craft its laws - but with the country swamped by deadly protests, Washington is staying out of the fray.
Its apparent absence during a key turning point in Iraq lays bare how much its interests and influence have waned since the 2003 US-led invasion that opened the door to fellow Shiite-majority neighbour Iran.
“The (US-Iraq) gulf has never been so big, and keeps getting bigger,” a senior Iraqi official said.
After the invasion, the US effectively dismantled and rebuilt the Iraqi state, ushering in a new class of political elites with whom it crafted close personal links.
It trained a new military, deploying more than 170,000 troops to Iraq at its peak before withdrawing in 2011.
Since then, American soldiers helped Iraq defeat extremists and US officials conferred closely with their counterparts on the 2017 Kurdish independence referendum, the 2018 parliamentary vote and the ensuing cabinet formation.
Now, protesters across Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south are demanding an overhaul of the US-crafted system, but the US has remained comparatively restrained.
It has issued a half-dozen statements condemning violence but stopped short of using its diplomatic muscle to resolve the crisis.
In the past, Washington would have been ‘much more overt’, the top Iraqi official said.
“The US back in 2003 shaped this current Iraqi government structure, which delivered this political class,” he said. “Do they want to be engaged in rectifying it? I think the jury is still out.”
“The bottom line is that the US state-building project in Iraq has failed,” said Kirk Sowell, an analyst who writes the Inside Iraqi Politics newsletter.
Iraqi protesters march past a burnt-down building near the capital Baghdad’s Khallani Square on Sunday