The Pentagon is now suggesting that US troops may return to the Middle East to train Iraqi special forces. Recent escalation in violence in Iraq has the U.S. concerned and is now considering a movement of troops to train Iraqi special forces at the request of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki has requested more weapons from the U.S. and is now indicating that he would support training from the U.S. for Iraqi counter-terrorism troops. However, Maliki said that the training would not be held in Iraq.
Six bombings have occurred in Baghdad in recent days killing 17 and injuring 71. Most recently a bomb blast shook a high-end shopping mall in west Baghdad. In the past weeks rebel groups have seized key cities including the U.S. hotly contested city of Falluja and Ramadi in the Anbar province. The unrest in Iraq has killed 600 in this month alone. Fears are surfacing that Iraq is slipping into sectarian violence once again.
U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren said that the U.S. was in discussions on how to improve the Iraqi army but did not directly mention that U.S. troops would return to the Middle East to train Iraqi special forces. However, Warren’s statement did not emphatically rule out a training mission as recent comments on U.S troops returning to Iraq and the Middle East had been met with emphatic denials.
The U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq in 2008 leaving behind a small contingency of marines to protect the Green Zone in Baghdad. Maliki’s recent press statements were released from the heavily fortified green zone as he asked the world community for assistance in combating rebel forces in Iraq. Maliki stated that he did not regret not coming to terms for legal immunity for U.S. troops with the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq but did indicate support for a new training mission of Iraqi special forces.
The U.S. is now fast tracking arms to Iraq that includes small weapons, tank ammunition and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. According to the Congressional Research Service Iraq has placed military orders totaling $10.5 billion and is now requesting arms purchases that could reach $25 billion. U.S. Congress has raised concerned over certain military armaments especially the request for Apache helicopters. Congress is seeking assurances on how and when these advanced weapons would be used. The U.S. Congress is wary of sectarian violence breaking out along the Shiite and Sunni factions which was a catalyst to send U.S. troops into Iraq during the Iraq War.
Many within the U.S. military complex believe it is important to provide Iraq with the needed assistance. Military officials say that keeping the Iraq military dependent on U.S. weapons systems can create leverage for years to come and would create a positive economic posture for military weapons industries in the U.S. military officials are also concerned that Iraq will look to strategic competitors like South Korea, China and Russia for weapons assistance. Officials stated that these countries tend to have a quicker system of providing assistance to Iraq and that could become a loss of competitive strength over competing countries.
The return of U.S. troops to the Middle East to train Iraqi special forces may be an important step in keeping a strong relationship with Iraq. The U.S. has spent decades creating a relationship with Iraq who has needs and resources that the U.S. recognizes as an important part of leveraging the association between the U.S. and Iraq. The softened rhetoric surrounding the issue may indicate a troop return to the Middle East in the near future.
by Anthony Clark