Ambassador: Iraq doubts US commitment

The Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. said Monday that, if the U.S. does not provide military assistance to Iraq, the vacuum would be filled by “others.” 

Ambassador Lukman Faily said Iran has offered “all the help literally to replace America,” but, so far, Iraq has refused. 

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“Our military, our army and everything else has been in partnered with United States. Why would we need to go to the Iranians?” Faily told an audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington. 

“But as I said in my speech, a vacuum is being created. And it will be filled by whoever’s available on the ground. That is the reality of it.” 

Faily said officials in Baghdad were beginning to doubt U.S. sincerity in wanting to help Iraq beat back the Sunni extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has taken over large parts of northern and western Iraq. 

Faily said the U.S. is using the prospect of air strikes and essential military assistance as an incentive for political reform, but without a show of meaningful U.S. support, the Iraqi government has little incentive to undertake the political reforms the U.S. wants, in a “chicken-and-egg” scenario. 

“We have skeptics who argue that this is really a conscious U.S. strategy for doing very little, that Washington intention is to create preconditions that we probably cannot satisfied, and then move the goalpost, if necessary, to ensure that we do not satisfy them,” Faily said. 

“Such suspicions are highly corrosive to American's relations with Iraq and its people. If Iraqis do not believe that meaningful U.S. assistance is forthcoming, then ... they will not have enough incentives to adopt and stand by the political reforms that the United States is urging us,” he said. 

Faily said such doubts were fed by U.S. promises to sell Apache attack helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, neither of which have reached Baghdad yet, despite Iraq first signing a contract in 2011. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee first held up a deal, out of concern the government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would use them against political opponents. 

Although that hold was lifted in December, Faily said the aircraft would now come too late to help Iraq beat back ISIS’s advance, and even if the aircraft did come now, there are no pilots to fly them. 

“Unfortunately, that delay has already had an impact — a direct impact on us. We have seeked this request for a long time. Until recently, it was approved by the Congress. And, unfortunately, even if it's approved now — even if we pay the bills now, the pilots are not in place, and so on,” Faily said. 

“Now, more than ever, the United States needs to be careful not to send mixed signals about its intentions. These mixed signals will create a vacuum that will be filled by others,” he said.