By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and SUSANNAH GEORGE | Associated Press
BAGHDAD (AP) — Reverberations from President Donald Trump’s travel ban and other stances are threatening to undermine future U.S.-Iraqi security cooperation, rattling a key alliance that over the past two years has slowly beaten back the Islamic State group.
Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has sought to contain any backlash from public anger sparked by Trump’s executive order banning Iraqis from traveling to the U.S. Also breeding resentment and suspicion are Trump’s repeated statements that the Americans should have taken Iraq’s oil and his hard line against Iran, a close ally of al-Abadi’s government.
Al-Abadi and Trump spoke Thursday night for the first time since Trump’s inauguration. The U.S. leader, who has pledged a stronger fight against IS militants, promised increased help for Iraq against terrorism, and al-Abadi asked him to remove Iraq from the travel ban, according to an Iraqi official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the telephone call.
Iraqi anger at Washington comes at a crucial juncture in a long and often contentious relationship. U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are about to launch an assault aimed at retaking the western half of Mosul that is still under Islamic State control. If Mosul is completely secured, it largely would break the extremist group’s “caliphate” in the country.
However, Iraqi and U.S. officials have said maintaining security in a post-IS Iraq will be just as difficult — preventing a resurgence of the militants and containing political divisions among Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Both countries have talked of keeping some U.S. troops long term to back Iraq’s security forces in that task, a recognition that complete American withdrawal at the end of 2011 was a mistake.
Now the Iraqi leader is coming under pressure. Lawmakers are demanding he reduce cooperation with Washington in the future, limit or prevent American troops from staying in the country after the defeat of IS, and reciprocate for any travel ban on Iraqis.
Members of powerful Shiite militias have outright warned of retaliation against Americans if the U.S. carries out any military action against Iran, their patron.
“Trump embarrassed al-Abadi,” said Saad al-Mutalabi, a lawmaker and long-time ally of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, one of al-Abadi’s most powerful political opponents.
“There will be a general consensus that Americans should not stay in Iraq after Mosul, after the statements and the executive order from Trump,” he said. “We believed that we had a strategic agreement with the U.S.”
“We are fighting ISIS on behalf of the entire world,” he added, using an alternative acronym for IS. “This has been a severe, severe disappointment among all Iraqis.”
Publicly, al-Abadi has…
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Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.