WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is preparing possible cuts of $250 million in military aid to Iraq, funds already approved by Congress, if the government expels U.S. troops, and is reconsidering a broad spectrum of other economic and military assistance that isn’t yet committed.
The State Department and the Department of Defense have discussed the military assistance funds in emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The emails indicate that the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs is working to cut all $250 million in funds under the U.S. foreign military financing program for Iraq for the current fiscal year.
The bureau also plans to ask the White House Office of Management and Budget whether it can eliminate the $100 million request for fiscal year 2021, “due to current optics on the ground,” according to the emails.
“This does not preclude further congressional consideration of foreign assistance should the situation change in Iraq,” one of the emails said.
The emails assert that no final decision has been made, but top administration officials have ordered a review of what funds may be held or reallocated in the event Iraq requires the U.S. troops be removed.
One of the emails said Secretary of State
directed that the 2020 foreign military financing funds be repurposed, or used elsewhere.
A State Department official said the U.S. is “constantly reviewing our assistance to ensure that it aligns with our policy objectives and makes best use of taxpayer dollars.” The official added that there have been no changes to U.S. assistance “at this point.” Iraqi officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
After a rocket attack killed an American contractor and wounded several U.S. service members in northern Iraq in December, President Trump ordered the killing of
Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani
in a U.S. airstrike.
Days later, Iraq’s parliament voted in favor of ending operations by international military forces in Iraq, in a nonbinding resolution passed with the backing of Shiite politicians, including Prime Minister
About 5,300 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of international counterparts remain in Iraq at the government’s invitation.
In response to Iraq’s threat to evict U.S. forces, Mr. Trump threatened Iraq with sanctions and a bill for billions of dollars if the U.S. is forced to withdraw its troops.
Unless the U.S. exits Iraq on a friendly basis, Mr. Trump said last week, the U.S. “will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever,” without offering specifics.
The State Department has warned that the U.S. could shut Iraq’s access to the country’s central bank account held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a move that could jolt Iraq’s already shaky economy, Iraqi officials have said. Loss of access to the accounts could restrict Iraq’s use of that revenue, creating a cash crunch in Iraq’s financial system and constricting a critical lubricant for the economy.
Cutting or reallocating the military-financing funding, which is appropriated by lawmakers to allow Iraq to purchase American military equipment, would require approval from Mr. Trump, as well as congressional notification, and the State Department is currently working on all necessary steps, the emails indicate.
Since fiscal year 2017, the U.S. has contributed $250 million annually to support Iraqi purchases of U.S. defense equipment and help fund other Iraqi acquisitions, training, and defense institution-building efforts. U.S. loan guarantees also have supported well-subscribed Iraqi bond issues to help Baghdad cover its fiscal deficits.
The foreign military financing program, administered by the departments of State and Defense, consists of more than $5 billion in loans and grants to other countries that is used to purchase American military gear.
Broadly, foreign military funding in the Middle East is geared toward strategic priorities, like countering Iran’s influence, defeating Islamic State, al Qaeda and other extremist groups, and developing and strengthening bilateral and multilateral partnerships.
Last year, the Trump administration briefly held up such financing to Lebanon over concerns about undue influence over the government by the militant Hezbollah group.
The State Department has no intention of making changes to various economic packages supporting the Iraqi people, according to the emails. On top of the foreign military financing, Iraq is scheduled to receive $150 million in economic support funds, $1 million in international military education training, $5.6 million in international narcotics control and law enforcement, known as INCLE, and $45 million in nonproliferation-, antiterrorism- and demining-related assistance.
Overall, Iraq received $3.7 billion in economic and military assistance from the U.S. in 2017, the latest year for which complete information is available.
The review of the foreign military funds grant is partly contingent on the expulsion of U.S. troops, which at this point, remains uncertain. On Friday, Mr. Trump told Fox News that Iraqi officials “speak different publicly than they do privately,” referring to public calls by some Iraqi lawmakers to expel U.S. troops.
Iraq would also face the prospect of U.S. sanctions if it purchased a Russian air-defense system known as the S-400, U.S. officials said. Members of the Iraqi parliament said last week they were in talks with the Kremlin over the purchase, citing the unpredictability of the country’s relationship with the U.S.
“A purchase would probably trigger sanctions, so we advise our partners not to make such purchases,” Joey Hood, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs said Tuesday in an appearance at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank.
Sanctions laws in the U.S. require measures against those who do business with Russia’s defense sector, though the White House would have to determine to what extent those sanctions would be imposed.
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—Michael R. Gordon contributed to this article.
Write to Vivian Salama at email@example.com
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