US officials tried to convince Iraqi leaders to prevent the Iraqi parliamentary vote from occurring Sunday, which called for Iraq to plan to expel US troops from the country, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. Despite US officials claiming it would be harmful for Iraq to follow through on such a move and hold the vote at all, ultimately the argument fell flat.
“The mood in the country was pushing for it,” one source familiar with the discussions said of the vote. “This was not something that could have been avoided.”
Axios was first to report this push by US officials.
It is too soon to know if the expulsion vote will come to fruition, due to the legal and procedural steps that would be necessary, the sources said. This week the council of ministers in Iraq will have a meeting on this topic where they will begin to determine the way forward, one of the sources explained.
There is a caretaker government in Iraq right now which complicates the authorities of the Prime Minister.
While Trump was flying back to Washington from his resort in Florida on Sunday evening, he told reporters on Air Force One that he would “charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before” if the country goes forward with expelling US forces from the country.
As more time passes since the strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the sources both expected Iraqi officials to cool off, take a step back and look at the US-Iraqi relationship more broadly. They hope that means they will become less emphatic about getting US troops out of the country in the near term.
State Department and National Security Council officials will be meeting with Iraqi officials on Monday and Tuesday in Washington. During working-level discussions between the US and Iraqi officials last week, it was Trump administration officials who were extremely angry over the protests at the US embassy. Now the tables will have turned, with Iraqis furious about the Soleimani strike.
Up until this point the United States has not shared the intelligence surrounding the “imminent threat” posed by Soleimani which US officials have pointed to as the justification for the strike, the sources said. Iraqi officials have asked for that intelligence and will continue to ask, but they do not know if they will ever get a detailed accounting, one source said.
There is a deep fear in Iraq that the killing of Soleimani will have the unintended consequence of fueling extremism, rather than driving it off. Sources described the massive funeral procession of Soleimani on Sunday as “scary” and “more robust than the US expected.”
“We are watching the ratcheting up of tension in the area,” said a diplomat from the region. The Trump administration is “stuck up on Iran in a way that they think will reduce its malign behavior but my feeling is that all they are doing is empowering the hard-liners and weakening the moderates. So it is a self-defeating prophecy.”