Donald Trump's snubs of Iraqi officials risk US influence in Baghdad | Eurasia Diary -

24 August, Saturday

Donald Trump's snubs of Iraqi officials risk US influence in Baghdad

Iraq faces an internal political struggle over the fate of American troops

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US President Donald Trump’s mistreatment of Iraq has put at risk Washington's influence in Baghdad and given rise to the possibility of American troops being removed from the country, experts say.

Relations between the two states have grown tense after Mr Trump's unannounced visit to Al Asad airbase in western Iraq and his failure to meet Iraqi officials in December, as well as his recent declaration that forces stationed there will keep an eye on Iran.

Mr Trump's actions have pushed lawmakers to call for a draft bill to expel the US military presence, seen by some as an "occupying" force.

Nearly 16 years after the US invasion of Iraq, there remain about 5,000 US troops stationed in the country.

Yet, the discourse in Iraq remains that Mr Trump cannot decide on whether or not he wants to keep troops in the country, Renad Mansour, research fellow at London’s Chatham House, told The National.

“This has been the unifying feature in many parliamentary debates,” he said.

Both the Binaa bloc, a pro-Iranian faction comprised of armed groups, and Islah, headed by the alliance led by populist cleric Moqtada Sadr, who champions the country's independence, have vowed to oust US troops.

Their unification portrayed a rare glimpse of harmony between Iraq’s two biggest rival blocs.


Balancing Tehran and Washington

Despite these efforts, officials in Baghdad have been faced with the daunting task of balancing ties between two of its most important allies, Washington and Tehran.

Iraq’s new cabinet has attempted to avoid being in the middle of the tussle, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has been seen as a compromise between the two.

He is a critic of both Iran and the US.

As a result, a domestic struggle has formed over who controls the new government and the US military presence is becoming a political football used in this internal struggle, Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The National.

Iraqi President Barham Salih and many other politicians denounced Mr Trump’s plan for US troops to “watch” Iran in an interview with CBS News last week, while others have called for the revision of its role in the country.

“If the anti-US block introduces legislation to limit numbers of US troops, it will become more difficult for pro groups to protect it,” Mr Knights said.

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