Trump’s threat to freeze Iraq’s US bank account over request to withdraw troops is pure mobster-style intimidation

RT | Danielle Ryan: Donald Trump’s threat to cut off Iraq’s access to its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York if Baghdad insists on a withdrawal of US troops from its soil is bare-faced, modern-day colonialism.

Let’s set the scene.

On January 5, the Iraqi parliament voted to approve a resolution calling for the removal of US troops. A day later, Donald Trump threatened to hit Iraqis with deadly economic sanctions “like they’ve never seen before” if Baghdad tries to expel American troops without first “paying us back” for an “extraordinarily expensive air base” built there.

Days later, when Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham grotesquely suggested that Iraq should indeed “repay the American taxpayer” for the base — built after US forces laid waste to the country in an illegal invasion — Trump, in typical fashion, did not even try to cloak his threat in niceties, opting for unequivocal blackmail instead.

“We have a lot of their money right now. We have 35 billion dollars of their money right now sitting in an account — and I think they’ll agree to pay. I think they’ll agree to pay, otherwise we’ll stay there.”

Iraq keeps its revenue from oil sales, which accounts for 90 percent of its budget, in the New York bank. Like many other countries around the world, they do this in order to be able to access the dominant US dollar, but that comes with risks. Iraqi officials have warned of total economic collapse if Trump goes through with the threat to impose new sanctions and hold the country’s money hostage, at a time when Iraqis are struggling to get by and tensions in the region are already on the rise.

In this context, Trump’s comment to Ingraham sounds like the equivalent of something you might hear in a mobster movie: You be good, do what we say — and maybe then we won’t kill your family.

What happened to Washington’s deep desire to secure freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people? In a statement released following the Iraqi parliament’s vote to expel American troops — which have been present in the country to fight ISIS militants under a 2014 deal —  the US State Department somehow managed to completely ignore the resolution and instead harp on about how it is a “force for good” in the region. Calling the US’s presence in the country “appropriate,” the statement shot down the notion that US troops would be leaving any time soon.

This is essentially the US once again asserting itself as a brute occupying force in Iraq, blatantly ignoring Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s request for Washington to begin preparations for withdrawal. Barely an eyebrow was raised in Western media, though, because for too long there has been an assumption that American troops have a simple, unassailable right to be in Iraq. It has somehow become completely normal and unremarkable for the US to dictate the terms of Iraq’s survival.

The statement went on to assert that the US wants to be a “partner” to a “sovereign” Iraq. A real “partner” does not use threats of devastating economic warfare as leverage — and if Trump or any of the empire-driven neocons advising him were truly interested in a sovereign Iraq, they would respect the wishes of the Iraqi parliament and set in motion a plan to remove America’s troops.

It’s not the first time the US has threatened to freeze Iraq’s Fed account and used its own money as leverage to produce favored geopolitical outcomes. In 2008, the Bush administration used the same tactic to force Iraq to sign an unpopular military deal prolonging its previous occupation. Barack Obama admitted, after all, that the US engages in “arm-twisting” to force other nations to “do what we need them to do.” 

If it came down to it, Washington would be perfectly happy to use Iraq as a battleground on which to fight a war against Iran — and this is exactly the reason why Iraqis have begun to feel increasingly uneasy about a continued US troop presence in their country. Far from a “force for good” in the region, the US is a bringer of chaos — and Iraq knows that better than anyone else.