Congress has appropriated more than $6.5 billion in security assistance for Iraq as part of the post-2014 campaign to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Yet, over that period, Baghdad has ignored or poorly implemented U.S. calls to enact substantive political and security reforms. That dynamic must change for the sake of Iraq’s future and U.S. national security interests. The ongoing U.S.-Iraq strategic dialogue is an opportune moment for Congress to work with the Trump administration to set a clear expectation: Benchmarks for reform paired with accountability — not blank checks — will be the new norm.
President Trump will host Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House this week at a critical time. The meeting is part of an ongoing discussion intended to establish the contours of U.S.-Iraq relations on security cooperation and other bilateral issues. Kadhimi’s government, which took office in May 2020, faces significant governance, security, economic and public health challenges. Kadhimi must also manage the lead-up to early parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2021.
A key and imminent threat confronting Kadhimi’s government is the Iranian regime’s attempt to subjugate Iraq. Iran’s armed proxy militias undercut Baghdad’s sovereignty while attacking both Iraqis and Americans. Tehran’s sanctions evasion schemes undermine Iraq’s economy and financial integrity. Iran’s malign influence also has helped spur widespread unrest in Iraq, beginning in October 2019. That was an important moment for dialogue with peaceful protesters. Instead, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, a committee of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force proxies “approved the use of lethal violence against protesters for the purpose of public intimidation.”
Maseh Zarif and Tyler Stapleton are directors of congressional relations at FDD Action, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute in Washington. They previously served as staffers in the House of Representatives. Follow them on Twitter @masehz and @Ty_D_Stapleton.