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Trump reimposed US military occupation on Iraq

Jan 15,2020 - Last updated at Jan 15,2020

The current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump, has reimposed the US military occupation on Iraq by rejecting Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi's call for the US to dispatch a team to Baghdad to establish a mechanism for the withdrawal of US and allied foreign forces from his country.

Abdel Mahdi had every right to issue such a request. The 2014 US redeployment to Iraq is based on an executive-to-executive agreement which was never ratified by Iraq's parliament and, therefore, enjoys little legitimacy. The mission the US troops were asked to undertake was to train, advise and provide air cover for the Iraqi armed forces in the campaign to rout and uproot Daesh.

Following the January 3 US assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi soil, Abdel Mahdi said Iraq was determined to "keep the best relations" with allies while agreeing with the country's parliament, which had decided that the US and others "should safely withdraw troops from Iraq". He observed that there "are American forces entering Iraq and American drones flying in its skies without permission from the Iraqi government, and that this constitutes breaches of agreements in place".

The US State Department responded, "At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership, not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East." The US intention is to the transform the anti-Daesh campaign into a broader regional mission involving containment of or confrontation with Iran. The last thing Iraqis want is for their country to become a battleground in the struggle for regional dominance between the US and Iran.

If the 5,200-6,000 US troops are ordered to leave, Trump threatened, "We will charge [Iraqis] sanctions like they've never seen before". Abdel Mahdi was also told during a phone call with a US official that the US would "block your account at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York".

This threat revealed that although US troops left Iraq at the end of 2011, the US has retained control over Iraq's oil revenues and finances. An Iraqi official quoted by the French news agency, said, "We're an oil-producing country. Those accounts are in dollars. Cutting off access means turning off the tap". This would make it impossible for the government to operate and pay salaries and precipitate the plunge in the value of the currency, another official told the agency. A third Iraqi official said the administration was considering "restricting" cash access to "about a third of what they would usually send". It could accomplish this by blacklisting a government agency which does business with Iran. This could collapse the already distressed Iraqi economy and create great suffering among Iraq's poor.

This US bank account should have been closed and the funds repatriated with the June 2004 US hand-over to the Iraqi interim government, following the establishment of Iraq's permanent government in May 2006, or, at the latest, in in early 2012 after the US military withdrawal. The account, with a current balance of $35 billion, was established in May 2003 by the US occupation regime under a UN Security Council resolution which lifted sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait but did not grant US control over Iraqi oil funds.

The resolution created the Iraq Development Fund, which was meant to use Iraq's oil money for reconstruction. However, international aid organisations operating in Iraq at that time reported the funds were neither spent on well-planned projects nor accounted for, although an oversight body had been mandated by the resolution. During a visit to Baghdad during this time, I was told by Iraqi businessmen that occupation officials in charge of reconstruction would ask Iraqis for detailed tenders for specific projects and hand them over to US firms which were awarded contracts, hired locals to carry out work which was not monitored, and charged far more than local companies would have done if the Iraqis had been given the jobs and proper procedures put in place.

Within the first year of the occupation regime, Christian Aid said that at least $4 billion was unaccounted for. Therefore, from the outset the occupation created a culture of corruption which has become rampant over the years and has prompted Iraqis to protest the lack of electricity, potable water, public services and jobs and to demand the fall of the Shia fundamentalist-dominated sectarian regime imposed by the US and exploited by Iran.

The reimposition of military occupation and the threat to withhold Iraq's oil revenues, amounts to a "maximum pressure" campaign against an ally. The Trump regime has already imposed sanctions on individuals and militias tied to Iran. The latest actions are certain to stoke anti-US sentiments, revive the protest movement and give legitimacy to attacks by pro-Iranian militias on bases hosting US troops. They not only face the constant threat of such strikes, but also attacks by vengeful Daesh remnants and fugitives.

Iraqis fear being caught in the crossfire. Four Iraqi soldiers were wounded on Monday by rockets at the north of Baghdad Balad base, which also hosts US and other foreign forces. Trump's dismissal of Abdel Mahdi's request undermined the weak caretaker government, which has been struggling to maintain reasonable relations with both the erratic, aggressive US and neighbouring Iran on which Iraq depends for natural gas for power plants, food, other essential export items and revenues from Iranian pilgrims visiting Shia holy sites. Iraq cannot afford to do without commerce with Iran.

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