More than half a billion dollars in U.S. security aid to Iraq could be on the chopping block amid growing concerns that the money is benefiting Iranian terrorists, according to lawmakers and congressional sources.
House Republicans are considering plans to cancel American taxpayer aid to Iraq—the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. security assistance—citing the country's growing alliance with Iranian proxy groups, which are embedded at nearly every level of Iraq's armed forces. These aid dollars have become a priority for the Biden administration as it attempts to help Baghdad avoid economic collapse. Republican leaders say they are done authorizing these growing aid packages following a decision last month by an Iraqi court to issue an arrest warrant for former president Donald Trump, claiming his 2020 decision to kill Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi soil constitutes a war crime. That decision, as well as Iraq's growing alliance with Iran, is fueling Republican opposition to the aid.
"Iraq, which we give millions in taxpayer dollars of security assistance to a year, has indicted President Trump for the alleged 'crime' of removing terrorist mastermind Qassem Soleimani from the battlefield," Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Yet President Biden is turning a blind eye to Iraq's growing Iranian ties. The Biden administration is recklessly funding foreign bad actors and Congress needs to take a hard look at where our taxpayer dollars are going overseas."
These plans could spell diplomatic trouble for the Biden administration, which is scheduled to meet at the State Department on Thursday with an Iraqi government delegation. Any congressional effort to cut off the Iraqi government's aid pipeline is certain to be raised with the Biden administration in these meetings. U.S. aid has become increasingly important to the Iraqi government as it faces a massive cash crunch and deteriorating economy. News of the plan is also likely to irritate the Biden administration, which is a proponent of U.S. aid to Iraq and is likely to fight any congressional plan to axe it.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), a House Foreign Affairs Committee member who chairs the Middle East subcommittee, said the Trump arrest warrant was a tipping point to some members who are concerned that U.S. aid to Iraq is benefiting Iranian terrorists operating in the country.
"This renewed call for former president Trump's arrest necessitates that Congress take a hard look at aid to Iraq," Wilson told the Free Beacon.
Republican leaders "are more ready than ever before to finally cut aid to Iraq for good," one senior congressional aide familiar with the discussions told the Free Beacon.
The Republican Study Committee, the largest Republican caucus in Congress, has repeatedly called in its annual budget proposal for cuts in American aid to Iraq.
With Republicans now in control of the House and its appropriations committees, Iraq's aid could end up on the chopping block.
"Congress isn't going to take this anymore with Republicans now running the House," said the senior congressional aide. "It's harder to think of something stupider than continuing to fund Iraq while their government is supporting terrorists and indicting our former president, and there's never been an intelligent justification for the aid."
Iran has long seen Iraq as a valuable territory for its militant operations. Iran is responsible for strikes on U.S. positions in the country and is known to station its fighters in the Iraqi security services, posing longstanding challenges for the United States. The drone strike that killed Iran's Soleimani while he was in Iraq highlighted Tehran's deep penetration into the country.
The U.S. government also provides upward of $200 million per year to Iraq in humanitarian aid and other projects and has provided $3 billion in humanitarian aid to Iraq since 2014. Congressional sources indicated these projects are largely immune to any proposed funding cuts.
Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer who worked in the region, said the congressional debate on aid is being fueled by American "failures of ignoring Iran's hold on Iraq's Shia political parties, its security and intelligence apparatus, and its economic sectors."
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country's paramilitary fighting force, is embedded in nearly every Iraqi sector, according to Pregent.
"The IRGC and the regime in Tehran have penetrated every sector of Iraq's economy and made Iraq an economic lifeline in order to offset U.S. sanctions," Pregent said. "The U.S. cannot continue to fund Iraq's security ministries where [Iranian Quds Force] proxies have primacy and carry out attacks against Iraqi protesters, U.S. installations, and our allies."
The United States, he added, "cannot continue to send funds to the Iraqi government that in short order make their way into IRGC coffers."