Congress pushes Trump to reopen US Consulate in Iraq’s Basra province
The State Department closed the US Consulate in Iraq’s Basra province nearly a year ago. Now Congress is laying the groundwork to reopen it.
By Bryant Harris*
The State Department closed its consulate in Iraq’s Basra province last year after rockets landed near the airport that houses the building. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the closure as “temporary” at the time. But one year later, the facility remains shuttered.
Now Congress is laying the groundwork to ensure the closure doesn’t become permanent.
At the time of the consulate’s closure, Pompeo blamed Iran-
“We remain committed to partnering with Iraqis in the southern provinces and throughout
the country to advance our mutual interests,” a State Department official told Al-
But earlier this year, the Iraqi envoy to Washington, Ambassador Fareed Yasseen,
The attack on the US Consulate occurred shortly after a group of Iraqi demonstrators protesting Tehran’s influence in the province stormed the Iranian Consulate in Basra and set it ablaze. The Iranians have nonetheless reopened their consulate for business.
The Project on Middle East Democracy, which supports a robust foreign aid budget in the region, attributes this to a split within the Trump administration on how to use Iraq as part of the maximum pressure campaign against Iran.
The organization's June analysis of the Trump administration’s 2020 foreign aid budget
proposal says, “On one side are officials who believe the US government should go
The Trump administration, which has sought to slash foreign aid across the board, requested $166 million in Iraqi assistance as part of the State Department’s 2020 budget request. The Senate spending bill, however, designates $453.6 million in Iraqi aid for fiscal year 2020. It also requires the Trump administration to submit a spending plan for its Iraqi aid programs.
Congress is also shoring up the Trump administration’s effort to curb Tehran’s influence in Iraq by weaning it off Iranian electricity imports. The bill earmarks $25 million in aid to Jordan “to increase electricity transmission to neighboring countries, including Iraq.”
The Trump administration has repeatedly renewed Iran sanctions waivers for Iraq to
continue importing natural gas for its electricity needs. Iraq relies on Iranian
natural gas for a substantial portion of its electricity generation, and widespread
power outages in Basra helped fuel anti-
But the bill isn’t all good news for Baghdad. The legislation requires Pompeo to report to Congress on “the independence and effectiveness of the judiciary of Iraq and its adherence to international standards of due process, including a description of the impact of corruption on judicial processes and outcomes.”
Iraq has come under significant international scrutiny from both the United Nations and human rights groups for its liberal use of the death penalty when sentencing detained Islamic State (IS) suspects, including women and children. Human Rights Watch estimates that Iraq is holding at least 20,000 IS suspects, and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned of “irreversible miscarriages” of justice.
The Project on Middle East Democracy budget analysis notes that as IS “cells continue to perpetrate human rights abuses, the Iraqi judicial system has struggled to ensure free trial guarantees for suspected members of the group.”
Additionally, Congress is taking a look at the scale of the US diplomatic presence in Iraqi Kurdistan. Although the State Department began construction on a new consulate building in Erbil last year, the legislation also requires Pompeo to submit a report to “assess whether project assumptions are still valid given the current Iraq mission footprint.”
*Bryant Harris is Al-