U.S. Could Cut Iraqi Military Assistance

Iraqi soldiers train at Ayn al-Assad air base in January 2017.

The United States could cut military assistance to Iraq if it moves to oust American troops.

The Wall Street Journal reported on January 14 that the Trump administration may move to cut $250 million in military assistance to Iraq if the Iraqi government expels U.S. troops from the country. The potential cut to the funding, which has already been approved by the U.S. Congress, is one of a range of options the U.S. might pursue to respond to an unfavorable Iraqi decision on foreign troops.

Moreover, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs may seek to cut a planned $100 million that will be provided next year.

The U.S. is also warning Iraq not to purchase the S-400, a Russian-made surface-to-air missile system.  By purchasing the system, Baghdad could make Iraq subject to sanctions under the CAATSA sanctions law.

No final decision has been made, the WSJ reported, citing emails between the State and Defense departments. A State Department official told the publication that the U.S. is “constantly reviewing our assistance to ensure that it aligns with our policy objectives and makes best use of taxpayer dollars.”

Iraq has not yet moved to kick out foreign troops, but many Shia politicians have sought to expel the U.S. in particular, with these efforts gaining steam in response to recent back-and-forth military activity between the U.S. and Iran on Iraqi soil, beginning in late December with a rocket attack by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia on a base housing American troops that resulted in the death of a contractor and the wounding of other personnel.

After an American air strike in response to the rocket fire left dozens of militia members dead – and a drone strike that killed their commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as well as IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani – the Iraqi Parliament signaled in a vote that it would move toward ending the presence of international troops in Iraq.  About 5,300 U.S. troops, as well as troops from international partner nations, are in Iraq to assist the country in fighting the Islamic State.

In 2014, the U.S. and other militaries came to Iraq’s defense as the Islamic State took over substantial amounts of territory and routed the Iraqi military. Over the ensuing years, international airpower supported Iraqi forces as they worked to recapture lost ground and defeat the extremist group. While the Islamic State no longer administratively controls territory in Iraq, it is believed to retain a network of cells throughout the country that could pose residual challenges to Iraq’s stability.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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