Iraqis don't want to choose sides as Iran-US tensions grow

At long last they are developing Baghdad’s Ferdous Square, the place where - as the world watched - Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled almost 17 years ago.

When it’s finished it will be a public park with lush flowerbeds, fountains and streams.

This renewal has taken so long to come about because, for the most part, Iraq has been in a state of turmoil ever since April 2003. Iraqis have had more pressing matters of life and death to consider.

US soldiers place an American flag over a statue of Saddam Hussein before it was toppled. File: 2013 Credit: AP/Jerome Delay

The last two years have seen a relative calm descend upon Baghdad. The defeat of Islamic State heralded peace and prosperity.

But now all that is threatened by the fall out from the assassination of Qassem Soleimani last week.

The Iraqis we spoke today do not want their country plunged back into war. They don’t want it to become a battlefield on which the Americans and Iranians slug it out. Nor do they want to have to choose sides. They are on the side of Iraq.

Last night the Iraqi Parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling for the government to expel the Americans from this country. But the vote was far from unanimous.

And whether the government will follow suit – or has the authority to do so given its caretaker status – is anyone’s guess.

The Iraqi parliament voted to remove US troops from the country on Sunday Credit: Iraqi Parliament Media Office

President Trump inserted himself into that debate by warning of severe sanctions if his forces are ejected.

I think his point is that if the Americans are kicked out, Iraq will become a virtual Iranian province and be treated as such.

The removal of US forces might also herald the start of a new civil war and the resurgence of the Islamic State.

For Iraq the stakes could hardly be higher. Work on a tranquil new Ferdous Square may have started, but its completion is far from certain.