The Trump administration is upping the ante against withdrawing its troops from Iraq by issuing more threats against Baghdad including sanctions, travel bans, and freezing its oil revenues.
The deaths of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander General Qasim Suleimani and deputy head of the Hashd Commission Abu Muhandis has motivated many of the Shiite parties to move against the U.S. troop presence. On January 5, parliament voted to expel the Americans. Then on January 9 retired Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and asked that a delegation be sent to Baghdad to set up a withdrawal process. Various Iraqi parties had been talking about the Americans leaving for several weeks, but nothing serious was ever done about it. The deaths of Suleimani and Abu Muhandis provided new drive to this effort with a big nudge from Iran who hopes to achieve one of its long time goals of removing U.S. forces from their doorstep. For Iraq this is very short term thinking as it is not considering the military, political, and economic consequences of forcing the Americans out.
Washington has responded to the Iraqis with an increasing string of threats. President Trump started on January 6 threatening to impose sanctions on Iraq if the U.S. was forced to leave, and said that Iraq would have to pay for a large air base that the U.S. has invested millions of dollars into. Sanctions could take several forms from removing Iraq from the exemption list from sanctions on Iran, limiting diplomatic contacts or blocking U.S. companies from doing business in Iraq. In an interview with Fox News, the president also mentioned that Iraq has $35 billion deposited in U.S. banks, and that might be affected. The Wall Street Journal reported that could mean freezing Iraq’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which houses Baghdad’s oil revenues. That same day an Associated Press article noted that Iraq might be added to a new travel ban list. These stories are only making the situation worse. No country likes to be threatened, especially when they are already mad at America’s air strikes. It is only inspiring opponents of the U.S. and silencing its friends in the Iraqi government who can’t argue for the Americans to stay after such comments. One of the major complaints has been that the U.S. is not respecting Iraq’s sovereignty. Now Trump and his administration are claiming they not only have the right to ignore Baghdad’s request to leave, but that it could cripple it’s economy as well.
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