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Trump: Iraq’s instability continues to pose ‘extraordinary threat’ to US national security

US President Donald Trump has extended the national emergency first declared on May 22, 2003 to address the “unusual and extraordinary threat” to America’s national security and foreign policy posed by Iraq’s continued instability.

It commits the US government to continue addressing “obstacles to the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq.”

These obstacles “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Trump said in a White House statement published on Wednesday.

“I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq declared in Executive Order 13303,” he added.

The original Executive Order 13303, signed by former US President George W. Bush on May 22, 2003, sparked controversy at the time as it appeared to hand US oil companies blanket immunity from lawsuits and criminal prosecution in connection with the sale of Iraqi oil.

Opponents of the 2003 war accused Bush of removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in order to open up Iraq’s substantial oil reserves to western companies.

Several executive orders in 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2014 renewed the original national emergency as security conditions evolved in Iraq and the scale and scope of US involvement changed.

Although Iraq has entered a reconstruction and stabilization phase since the 2003 invasion, its 2006-09 civil war, and the 2014-17 Islamic State (ISIS) conflict, its security continues to be marred by insurgency, internal division, structural and institutional weakness, and Iran-backed militia proxies.

Among the most urgent threats is the ongoing presence of ISIS militants and sleeper cells across the country, particularly those operating in areas disputed between the federal government and the Kurdistan Region, where militants have exploited security gaps.

A new Pentagon report published earlier in May warned the group has been given the breathing space to conduct a “low-level insurgency” in territories once under its control, “in mountainous and desert provinces north and west of Baghdad, particularly within an area of northern Iraq claimed by both the central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.”

“US CENTCOM in February described ISIS as ‘regrouping and reforming’ in the Makhmour Mountains in northern Iraq, while the 2021 DoD budget justification for overseas contingency operations said that ISIS is expected to seek to re-establish governance in northern and western  areas of Iraq,” the Pentagon’s Lead Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell warned in his report.

Most frequently attacked has been the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala, where 80 of the 250 attacks recorded in the last three months have been reported. The Diyala towns of Baqubah and Khanaqin have been among the deadliest.

Other attacks were reported in the provinces of Anbar, Kirkuk, Nineveh, and Saladin, according to the report. The primary methods of attack were assault, IED use, and assassinations. ISIS also appears to have resurrected its summertime tactic of agricultural arson.

The group appears to be exploiting the chaos caused by the coronavirus lockdown to ramp up its attacks.

Despite the continued ISIS threat, the US and other coalition forces have consolidated their positions in Iraq in recent months, handing over control of several military bases to the Iraqi security forces.

The transfers are part of a long-term plan for the coalition to step back from its mission, coalition officials have said – although the COVID-19 pandemic and recent rocket attacks on bases hosting US and other coalition troops by Iran-backed militias are likely to have influenced strategists.

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, seems to have ramped up its efforts to purge isolated areas of ISIS remnants, launching massive sweep-up operations which have uncovered bomb factories, arms caches, and tunnel networks.

Although such tactics look good on paper, the thorough, intelligence-based police work required to break up terror cells is broadly lacking thanks to the failure of Iraqi and Kurdish forces to coordinate.

Since the sides clashed in October 2017, the Kurdish Peshmerga has harbored deep mistrust of the Iraqi armed forces and their Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) auxiliaries. As a result, local knowledge and intelligence networks forged over many years have been squandered.

With Mustafa al-Kadhimi installed as Iraq’s new prime minister, tackling the threat posed by ISIS appears to be high on the agenda.

But the new PM also faces a massive economic crisis brought on by the collapse of world oil prices and the coronavirus lockdown, which will hobble his efforts to address the demands of Iraq’s young protesters for jobs, public services, and action against rampant corruption.

He is also caught in the middle of a dangerous rivalry between Iraq’s two main foreign allies – the US and Iran – which risks dragging the country into a proxy war.

Trump’s renewal of the national emergency is therefore a recognition of the fragility of Iraq as it combats the insurgency, navigates internal divisions exploited by regional foes, and skirts financial collapse – all challenges which could pose a threat to US national security, foreign policy, and oil interests.  Source