US troops unwelcome, time to leave Syria, Iraq and respect sovereignty of nations
Published: Feb 08, 2024 04:51 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Three US soldiers were killed in a drone strike that targeted a small US outpost in Jordan recently. The US has vowed to retaliate against the perpetrators and has already launched another strike in Iraq, targeting alleged Iran-backed militants in the country. These attacks were carried out from US bases in Syria and Iraq, both of which are considered illegitimate and fundamentally illegal under international law. 

This issue highlights the fact that US troops are not only unsafe in hot zones like the Middle East now, but also that their presence is inherently hostile. Washington must adherence to international law and respect the overwhelming popular will of countries like Iraq and Syria by withdrawing from the region.

However, so far, Washington has ignored these calls. It has justified its presence in Syria as necessary for defending against terrorism, similar to its presence in Iraq. Both military installations were established for counter-IS operations. 

However, now that the organization has essentially been defeated in the region, there is no legitimate reason for the US to maintain its presence. 

Syria has demanded that Washington withdraw its troops, saying "the occupation of parts of Syrian territory by US forces cannot continue."

Iraq's parliament has consistently voted for years to expel US troops, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said on January 10 that Baghdad wants "a quick and orderly" withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq. The US, however, has rejected these demands. It does not recognize the legitimacy of the UN-recognized Syrian government, and various Iraq-US security working groups have been fruitless on this agenda item. 

Numerous observers have said the quiet part out loud, with regards to why exactly US troops remain: To contain Iran and prepare for a potential war. But it is important to recognize that the US does not have the capability to win such a war. 

In August 2023, a study conducted by the Army War College, drawing on lessons from the conflict in Ukraine, found that the US' all-volunteer military would be unable to withstand a formidable adversary. "Army theater medical planners may anticipate a sustained rate of roughly 3,600 casualties per day, ranging from those killed in action to those wounded in action or suffering disease or other non-battle injuries. With a 25 percent predicted replacement rate, the personnel system will require 800 new personnel each day. For context, the United States sustained about 50,000 casualties in two decades of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In large-scale combat operations, the United States could experience that same number of casualties in two weeks," the study found. 

Moreover, multilateral and intergovernmental institutions are seeing a serious swing in power after the recent interim decision by the International Court of Justice brought by South Africa, which called on Israel to limit civilian casualties in Gaza and allow humanitarian aid. While this decision is very clearly non-binding (the US and its allies pulled critical aid from Gaza, Israel's offensive has not relented, and the US has routinely ignored World Court decisions), it still speaks to the distribution of global power - both soft and hard - tilting toward the Global South. In this regard, the existing security architecture of the world is in a moment of serious disruption over the events transpiring in Gaza. The UN Security Council must act to correct the illegal actions of the US.

It is time for Washington to recognize the importance of upholding international law and respecting the sovereignty of nations. The US military is fundamentally unwelcome in the Middle East, and if the US government truly "does not seek conflict" as it claims, it should withdraw its troops from the Middle East.

The author is a Prague-based American journalist, columnist and political commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn