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Analysis

US Eyes Curbing Iran in Iraq Using New Ambassador

Thursday 13 June 2019
US Eyes Curbing Iran in Iraq Using New Ambassador

Alwaght- Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 elections once again brought back Washington’s focus on the Iraqi political developments like the years that followed the invasion of the Arab country in 2003. New State Department’s approach to Iraq suggests that due to the high costs Iraq war foisted on the US, Washington should not allow other actors to hold sway in this country. To put it differently, the US should be the top player in Iraq. In addition to this approach, Trump’s anti-Iranian hostility motivates further concentration on Iraq as the most important spot where the US can curb the Iranian influence in the region.

In fact, the full-scale confrontation with Iran, marked by the sanctions on the Iranian oil and banking sectors, is the face of the US West Asia strategy. That makes Iraq the main point of focus of the State Department to take on Iran to increase the US share of influence in the region.

Trump did not find the sole focus on Iraq adequate to confront Iran. So, he introduced changes to the ranks of the US diplomats serving in Iraq. This move came a little bit late, however. In May, with approval of the Senate, Washington appointed a new ambassador to Iraq. Matthew Tueller replaced Douglas Sillimam. Following the picking, the media and political experts paid special attention to the case. They treated the change of ambassador as an important issue raising some questions.

New Ambassador Appointment: A reliable choice or ending Obama legacy?

Matthew Tueller, 62, has been the US ambassador in Yemen since 2014. He held the same post in Kuwait between 2011 and 2014. In the past, he served at his country’s embassies in Cairo, Baghdad, Kuwait, and Riyadh in various posts. He replaced Douglas Silliman who served in such countries as Kuwait, Jordan, and Pakistan and led some political research on Lebanon. Now the question is that in addition to the anti-Iranian policy, what has made the US change its ambassador to Iraq?

Two issues are worth noting in answering this question. First, Trump seeks to end the Obama legacy in all areas of US politics. He has very well proven this intention as he sought to dismiss as many Obama-era diplomats as possible when he assumed the office in early 2017. So, Silliman became one of the others added to the list of the fired diplomats. Silliman was appointed by Barack Obama ambassador to Iraq in September 2016, only three months before the presidential election.

Second, Trump by appointing Tueller eyes to have a reliable diplomat representing him in Baghdad. In the new conditions, the American president pursues the Iraqi politics and the American military and political presence in Iraq with special sensitivity. He seeks to manage the situation according to his own will using an obedient ambassador. Tueller’s record, in the meantime, shows that he has a special talent in winning the hearts of the presidents. His anti-Iranian tendency also affected his picking as the new ambassador.

Appointed as ambassador to Baghdad in very sensitive circumstances, Tueller appears to have three missions to accomplish in Iraq. First one is to check the increasing Iranian influence in Iraq. The new envoy will very likely put the main portion of his focus and energy on the full-scale confrontation of the Iranian toehold in Iraq. In the past, he repeatedly made anti-Iranian speeches and asked for the US to strongly counter Iran.

The second mission is to persuade Baghdad and Erbil to show commitment to the Washington sanctions against Tehran. This effort has older roots in the US Iraq policy, but in the new situation and with the end of waivers from oil embargo for some countries, including Iraq, it has taken a more serious shape. The new representative is expected to put strains on the Iraqi and Kurdish region’s officials asking them to show loyalty to ban.

And the third mission is an effort to undermine the Iraqi forces allied to the Iran-led Axis of Resistance in the region. Countering the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), founded in 2014 in opposition to the ISIS terrorist group, and ejecting the pro-Iranian politicians from the current government in Iraq will be crucial parts of his policy.

But he can hardly reach the goals he is appointed for. The strong Baghdad-Tehran relations at various levels will very soon disappoint Tueller with the pursuit of his aims in Iraq. After all, the extent of Tehran-Baghdad-Erbil strategic bonds is so wide that change of a diplomat and even a practical action by Washington cannot bring any success to Trump policy. So, Tueller is expected to soon run into the frustration of understanding that he cannot do much to separate Iraq from Iran and so follow the routine path Silliman followed after a similar frustration. 

 

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