The White House announced Jan. 20 that President Donald Trump will meet his Iraqi counterpart, Barham Salih, this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Trump is also set to meet separately with Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani.
Why it matters: Baghdad’s threat to expel US troops in the wake of the strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and the Trump administration’s vow to hit Iraq with sanctions could become a major point of contention in the meeting. Some Republican lawmakers have also floated moving US troops to Iraqi Kurdistan if Baghdad moves forward with its threats to remove US forces — a possibility Trump himself could raise when he meets with Barzani.
Approximately 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces and cooperate in battling what remains of the Islamic State (IS). US forces returned to Iraq in 2014 at the request of the Iraqi government, when IS had overrun large swaths of Iraqi territory, capturing Mosul and threatening the Kurdistan Region.
Although the State Department told Al-Monitor last week that Iraq sanctions are still on the table “if we deem them necessary,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood was less willing to address the specific threats the United States has made.
“As we’ve seen before, if you don’t have a solid security relationship to keep extremists at bay, then you also don’t have a very solid environment for investors,” Hood told Al-Monitor at a Middle East Institute panel last week. “You don’t have a very solid economy. There are lots of concerns that come from that. That’s why we want to have a recommitment to the strategic relationship so that it’s solid on all levels — the diplomatic side, the security side, the financial side, the trade and other sides.”
What’s next: Agence France-Presse has previously reported that Washington has threatened to cut Iraq off from a $35 billion, US-based account that holds Baghdad’s oil revenue, which comprises some 90% of the Iraqi state budget.
But Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted that the Treasury Department has historically started with less extreme measures as warning shots to other countries.
“I would expect there to be targeting of individuals who have been facilitating Iran finance, and that’s kind of the first step in escalation,” Schanzer, who supports potential Iraq sanctions, told Al-Monitor. He added, “You could potentially see individuals designated inside the government for having done this too if they’ve crossed the United States in a specific way. That wouldn’t necessarily have the full-on nuclear effect that the designation of a major bank or the Iraqi Central Bank [would have].”
Know more: Brush up on the escalating US-Iraq feud before Trump’s meetings this week with Al-Monitor’s extensive coverage. Senior correspondent Amberin Zaman interviewed Barzani just last week, while Al-Monitor president Andrew Parasiliti interviewed Salih in September. And Congressional Correspondent Bryant Harris has the story on key Republican lawmakers lining up behind Trump’s Iraq sanctions threats.
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