Iraq wants a quick and orderly negotiated exit of US-led military forces from its soil but has not set a deadline, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said, describing their presence as destabilizing amid regional spillover from the Gaza war.
Longstanding calls by mostly Shi’ite Muslim factions, many close to Iran, for the US-led coalition’s departure have gained steam after a series of US strikes on Iran-linked militant groups that are also part of Iraq’s formal security forces.
Those strikes, which came in response to dozens of drone and missile attacks on US forces since Israel launched its Gaza campaign, have raised fears that Iraq could once again become a theater for regional conflict.
“There is a need to reorganize this relationship so that it is not a target or justification for any party, internal or foreign, to tamper with stability in Iraq and the region,” Sudani told Reuters in an interview in Baghdad on Tuesday.
Giving the first details of his thinking about the future of the coalition since his Jan. 5 announcement that Iraq would begin the process of closing it down, Sudani said the exit should be negotiated under “a process of understanding and dialogue.”
“Let’s agree on a time frame [for the coalition’s exit] that is, honestly, quick, so that they don’t remain long and the attacks keep happening,” he said, noting that only an end to Israel‘s war on Gaza would stop the risk of regional escalation.
“This [end of the Gaza war] is the only solution. Otherwise, we will see more expansion of the arena of conflict in a sensitive region for the world that holds much of its energy supply,” Sudani said.
A US withdrawal would likely increase concern in Washington about the influence of arch foe Iran over Iraq’s ruling elite. Iran-backed Shi’ite groups gained strength in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion.
The Pentagon on Monday said it had no plans to withdraw US troops, which are in Iraq at the invitation of its government.
Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, has been among the fiercest critics of Israel‘s Gaza campaign against the Hamas terror group, falsely describing it as a textbook case of genocide, claims Israel vehemently denies.
But Iraq’s government has repeatedly also said the attacks by armed groups on foreign forces and diplomatic missions in Iraq were illegal and went against the country’s interests, and says it has arrested some perpetrators and prevented attacks.
At the same time, Baghdad has condemned US strikes on bases used by the groups, as well as a recent strike against a senior militia commander in the heart of Baghdad, as grave violations of sovereignty.
Critics say the armed groups, including Kataeb Hezbollah and Haraket Hezbollah al-Nujaba, use their status as members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state security force that began as a grouping of militias in 2014, as a cover.
When striking at US forces, they operate outside the chain of command under the banner of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq; when the US retaliates, they mourn their losses as members of the PMF and reap the rewards of rising anti-US sentiment.
US-led forces invaded Iraq and toppled former leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, withdrawing in 2011 but then returning in 2014 to fight Islamic State as part of an international coalition. The US currently has some 2,500 troops in Iraq.
With Islamic State territorially defeated in 2017 and on the demise ever since, Sudani said the coalition’s raison d’etre had long-since ended.
YEARS IN THE MAKING
But calls for the coalition’s withdrawal have been around for years and, so far, little has changed. Iraq’s parliament in 2020 voted for its departure days after the US assassinated top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militant commander in a strike outside Baghdad airport.
The next year, the US announced the end of its combat mission in Iraq and a shift to advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, a move that changed little on the ground.
The Gaza war has put the issue back in center stage, with many Iraqi groups that brought Sudani’s government to power and are close to Tehran calling for the final exit of all foreign forces, a move long sought by Iran and its regional allies.
The chief of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech on Friday that US strikes in Iraq should pave the way for the final withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, which would also make their presence in northeastern Syria untenable.
Sudani said he was seeking the coalition’s exit because Iraq could now defend itself from terrorism and should exert full sovereignty over its territory — thereby avoiding giving anyone an excuse to draw Iraq into regional conflict.
“Ending its presence will prevent more tensions and the entanglement of internal and regional security issues,” Sudani said.
He said Iraq was open to establishing bilateral relations and engaging in security cooperation with coalition nations, including the US. This could including training and advising Iraqi security forces as well as weapons purchases.
The US “is not an enemy to us and we are not at war with it, but if these tensions continue it will definitely impact and create a gap in this relationship,” he said.
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Texas University Plans to Close Qatar Campus Amid Scrutiny of Hamas Ties
On Thursday, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted 7-1 to end its contract with the Qatar Foundation, which will result in the college’s Qatar campus shutting down over the next four years.
Texas A&M said it decided to reassess its relationship with Qatar after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which the terrorist group murdered 1,200 Israelis and took more than 240 more hostage. It cites regional instability as one of the reasons for its decision. The Qatari government also has extensive ties with Hamas’ political and military leadership.
The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is funded by the Qatari government and is the institution that funds Texas A&M’s Qatar campus.
The Chair of the university’s Board of Regents said it “has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States.” He continued, explaining that “By the middle of the 21st century, the university will not necessarily need a campus infrastructure 8,000 miles away to support education and research collaborations.”
The decision also comes amid heightened scrutiny of Qatar’s role in American higher education — as it spent almost $5 billion on American universities between 2001 and 2021 — as well as its role in funding terrorist groups such as Hamas.
In an article for The Free Press in October, Eli Lake outlined what he saw as the significant influence Qatar is having on American higher education. He lists the universities that have gotten significant donations from Qatar, such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. He also notes that Qatar’s influence goes beyond money, affecting policies and programs within specific academic departments as well. For example, the Qatar campus of Northwestern, which is home to the U.S.’s best journalism program, had an agreement with the terrorist-sympathetic Al-Jazeera that it would help train its students.
The significant attention paid to these relationships is likely driven by the steep increase in anti-Israel and pro-terrorist sentiment in the U.S., particularly on college campuses.
A 2023 report from the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy also concluded that concealed donations from foreign governments to U.S. educational institutions are associated with an increase in antisemitic incidents on campus and the erosion of liberal norms.
However, the Qatar Foundation believes the decision was made for political reasons. In a statement, it wrote: “It is deeply disappointing that a globally respected academic institution like Texas A&M University has fallen victim to such a campaign and allowed politics to infiltrate its decision-making processes. At no point did the Board attempt to seek out the truth from Qatar Foundation before making this misguided decision.”
There have been no indications thus far that other universities that receive a significant amount of Qatari funding, or operate campuses in Qatar, are reconsidering their relationship.
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Antisemitic Vandals Strike Hillel Building at University of Leeds in UK
The Hillel House of University of Leeds was vandalized on Thursday night, raising further concerns about a hateful campus climate and rising antisemitism across the United Kingdom, particularly since Hamas’ October 7 attacks.
The vandals, according to pictures shared online, graffitied “FREE PALESTINE” on the building and additional scribble on two window panes.
“We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc Hillel House was defaced with antisemitic graffiti,” Leeds JSoc, which uses the building for club meetings, said in a statement also signed by the Union of Jewish Students, an advocacy group. “It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level.”
The groups noted that a University of Leeds professor may be responsible for leading anti-Zionist to the building, alleging that he shared its address “for the sole purpose of intimidating Jewish students on campus.”
“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences they deserve,” the group added.
Anti-Zionists extremists struck elsewhere on Thursday, storming University of Birmingham with socialists and other far-left groups while holding signs that said, “Zionists off our campus” and “75 years of illegal occupation!” Many concealed their faces, covering them with keffiyeh.
“Jewish students are feeling less and less safe at university because of these vile antisemitic acts,” National Jewish Assembly (NJA), a Jewish civil rights nonprofit, said in a statement about the incidents. “It’s time we say enough. Jewish students deserve and must feel safe on campus.”
Thursday’s incidents followed a set-back for the academic Jewish community. Earlier this week, it was announced that a UK government agency which arbitrates disputes over employment law ruled that University of Bristol lacked standing to fire sociologist David Miller, an extreme anti-Zionist who was accused of harassing Jewish students and promoting antisemitic tropes, and said his “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic.”
Pervasive antisemitism and anti-Zionism at UK universities is forcing members of the Jewish academic community to conceal their identities on campus, according to a June 2023 report issued by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education, a committee of lawmakers and established by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022 in response to complaints of anti-Jewish racism and discrimination.
“We were told it was commonplace for Jewish students to choose not to wear certain clothing or jewelry around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish,” the Task Force wrote in the report, titled Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education, noting that academic staff “also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity.”
The Task Force recommended that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which, it said, has not, contrary to the claims of its many opponents, diminished free speech and academic freedom.
Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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US House Committee Threatens Harvard University With Subpoena for Antisemitism Documents
Harvard University on Wednesday was given a “final warning” to fully cooperate with the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s investigation of antisemitism on its campus.
In January, Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) gave the school, which spent the fall semester under fire for allegedly ignoring rampant antisemitic harassment and intimidation, two weeks to deliver documents relevant to the committee’s investigation. Harvard never did, and now Rep. Foxx is threatening to subpoena the material she requested.
“The committee has sought to obtain information regarding Harvard’s response to the numerous incidents of antisemitism on its campus and steps taken to protect Jewish students, faculty and staff,” Foxx wrote in a letter to Harvard University interim president Alan Garber and Harvard Corporation senior fellow Penny Pritzker.
“Harvard’s responses have been grossly insufficient,” she continued. “If Harvard continues to fail to comply with the committee’s requests in a timely manner, the committee will proceed with compulsory process.”
Foxx has requested a trove of documents, including “all reports of antisemitic acts or incidents” and “related communications” going back to 2021 that were sent to Harvard’s offices of the president, general counsel, dean of students, police department, human resources, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, among others. She also requested documentation on Harvard Kennedy School professor Marshall Ganz, who, the school determined during an investigation, “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is also investigating other top universities, including the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to determine whether administrators at those schools ignored antisemitic discrimination. The probes were announced after the committee grilled the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT about their plans to respond to rising anti-Jewish hate in their communities. During the hearing, Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of Penn — both of whom have since resigned from their positions — as well as Sally Kornbluth of MIT largely evaded lawmakers’ questions, infamously equivocating on whether calling for the genocide of Jews contravenes school rules.
For Harvard, America’s oldest institution of higher education and arguably its most prestigious, the presence of radical anti-Zionists on campus has been a persistent issue. At the start of this academic year, a student and anti-Israel activist interrupted a convocation ceremony held by the school, shouting at Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, “Here’s the real truth — Harvard supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid, and the oppression of Palestinians!”
However, the broader public largely did not take notice until Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in Israel. As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard issued a statement blaming Israel for the attack and accusing the Jewish state of operating an “open air prison” in Gaza, despite that the Israeli military withdrew from the territory in 2005.
For her part, Gay waited several days to condemn the Hamas atrocities, and when she did, her statement said nothing about antisemitism. When she resigned at the beginning of the new year, she accused her critics of racism.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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