But it was not clear whether the warning was a ploy to force a crackdown on powerful Iraqi militias, or the first step in a radical strategic move to end a US presence 17 years after the war in Iraq.
Kadhimi, a U.S. ally who visited the White House last month, was caught off guard by Pompeo’s demands, which came amid an election campaign so far contested largely on domestic issues. Trump’s few forays into foreign policy have focused on repatriating troops from Iraq and elsewhere and demanding unfettered loyalty from allies, including Baghdad.
Kadhimi is seen as more US-oriented than his predecessors, but his authority has been tested in recent months by powerful Iran-backed militias who are believed to be responsible for a series of rocket attacks. on the walled green zone of Baghdad, where the seat of government and diplomatic missions are located.
The roadblocks have multiplied throughout a year that began with a US drone strike in Baghdad, which killed the powerful Iranian general Qassem Suleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of one of the militias, Kata ‘ib Hezbollah.
Since then, Iranian-inspired attacks on American and other Western interests have been constant – despite Kadhimi’s insistence that they end. His relative helplessness led some in Trump’s inner circle to lose faith in a man they hoped could be prized in Iranian orbit.
Another section of the administration, however, insists that Iraq’s geography and post-war experiences made relations with Iran inevitable, and that a naked “with us or against” approach. us ”is doomed to failure.
“The rocket attacks are the trigger for an older and larger problem: the US administration believes it has invested billions and many lives in Iraq and obtained little in return,” said former European diplomat Clarisse Pasztory, who spent more than a decade. in Iraq.
“Instead, Iran benefited from it. Trump thinks transactionally and does not absorb conventional wisdom. The sunk cost argument does not buy. He wants Iraq to either show that it is firmly with the United States and is grateful for it, or to end what Trump sees as a farce.
“I guess Trump is thinking first – and maybe even only – of elections. Leaving Iraq, much less simply announcing it, is pretty free. No US president can afford to see US personnel killed weeks before the election. ”
A high-level regional source said many Iraqi officials had decided the US move was not a ploy and that the president could, in the coming weeks, overturn a nearly 20-year policy that considered a security presence. and a diplomatic muscle just as valuable for a policy of struggle. Iranian influence.
“I’m not sure it’s a bluff as it’s politically costing DC to start an evacuation,” the regional source said. “But it could also be to show determination and put Kadhimi in a corner.”
It is not known whether after Suleimani’s death Iran still enjoys complete control over Kata’ib Hezbollah and other militias, the regional official said.
“Qassem was one of a kind. He has invested time and resources in personal relationships that have grown stronger over three decades. He could be cunning and compassionate, and threaten and reward Iraqi actors. He knew the game and played it exceptionally well. Qassem exploited the limitations of the Americans in a way that helped him advance the Iranian cause.The official argued that the assassination of Suleimani, one of the region’s most powerful figures, had neutralized the ability of the United States and Iraq to deal with Iran.
“The Americans were using Iraqi presidents and officials who could speak to both sides to convey messages to Qassem. And he could do the job. Who are they going to now? It is a tragic situation, with no hope in sight for the country.
The intelligence community has also been alarmed by Pompeo’s phone call and the challenge to Kadhimi it implies.
“I’m concerned that Trump’s approach may actually abandon what has been a huge investment in Iraq, in blood and resources,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, who retired from the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service in 2019. , and has spent the majority of his career working in the Middle East, including Iraq.
“Iraq can call our bluff… So what? Do we hand Iraq over to Iran, which happens if we pack our bags and go. It is not in the interests of the United States and that is the danger of this approach. Without a large American footprint – which includes all the elements of American might, military, intelligence, aid, diplomatic – Iran immediately fills the void.
“We cannot do this from a neighboring country. We have to be inside Iraq. I imagine we will come to a workable solution, in which the Iraqis will make security improvements so that we can stay.