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Trump, Iraqi prime minister confer on strategy to defeat ISIS

President Trump hosted Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House on Monday.
President Trump hosted Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House on Monday.JIM LO SCALZO/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday held his first meeting with Iraq’s prime minister as the American leader shapes his policy for defeating the Islamic State, but signaled no major change in the US military commitment.

With Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House, Trump said he hopes to address the ‘‘vacuum’’ that was created when the Islamic State claimed Iraq and added that ‘‘we shouldn’t have gone in’’ to Iraq in the first place.

Trump campaigned on a promise to dramatically step up the assault on the Islamic State and has vowed to eradicate ‘‘radical Islamic terrorism,’’ but on Monday he did not suggest there would be a dramatic change in course.


Like former President Barack Obama, Trump has not suggested any sharp increases in troop levels or in airstrikes against militant targets, looking to avoid giving the image of an invading force.

In a joint news conference, Abadi said Iraq has ‘‘the strongest counterterrorism forces, but we are looking forward to more cooperation between us and the US.’’

The Iraqi leader’s first visit to Washington since Trump’s inauguration came before Trump hosts a 68-nation meeting geared toward advancing the fight against the militant group.

In Baghdad on Monday, a suicide car bombing killed at least 23 people and wounded 45 others, officials said. No one claimed responsibility, but the Islamic State group, which is also known by the acronym ISIS, has been behind previous Baghdad bombings.

Trump said Iran is one of the issues his team will discuss with the Iraqi delegation. He took the opportunity to criticize the nuclear deal his predecessor pursued.

‘‘One of the things I did ask is, ‘Why did President Obama sign that agreement with Iran?’ because nobody has been able to figure that one out,’’ Trump said. ‘‘But maybe someday we’ll be able to figure that one out.’’


During Abadi’s last visit to Washington, the Iraqi prime minister worked to drum up greater financial and military support as he faced the daunting task of rebuilding cities destroyed in the fight against the Islamic State.

He also sought greater assistance to help the country confront a humanitarian crisis, with more than 4 million people displaced in the fighting.

As he departed Baghdad for the meeting at the White House, Abadi declared in a video statement, ‘‘We are in the last chapter, the final stages to eliminate ISIS militarily in Iraq.’’

But as Iraqi forces come closer to recapturing the city of Mosul — i’s militant group’s biggest stronghold in Iraq — the extent to which the Trump administration is willing to commit to efforts to rebuild Iraqi cities, many of them in ruins from the fighting, remains to be seen.

Trump’s budget proposal would cut by roughly 30 percent funding for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development. Both contribute significantly to peacekeeping missions and development programs.

How Iraq will be affected by Trump’s approach isn’t known. Previous administrations have asserted a need for maintaining assistance to Iraq to counter the influence of neighboring Iran.

If the proposed budget is approved by Congress, more than $3 billion of the additional money being geared toward defense spending would be allocated to the fight against the Islamic State, including $2 billion for a fund that would give the Pentagon the discretion to direct those resources where needed to support the strategy.


Abadi arrives having already won one concession from Trump administration.

The temporary ban on travelers from seven countries was rewritten to exclude Iraq, after several Iraqi officials and US lawmakers objected to Iraq’s inclusion, noting the risks and sacrifices that many Iraqis made assisting US troops during and after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The rewritten ban has been blocked by US courts.

Trump may also find himself having to explain comments he made on his first day in office, when he vowed that the United States may get a chance to take Iraq’s oil as compensation for its efforts there — something al-Abadi, and later, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, rebuffed.

Abadi assumed power in 2014 after Iraq’s longtime prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was pushed out by his party for his failures to cap the surge of Islamic State fighters. At one point, the radical Sunni Muslim group ruled about a third of Iraq.

Since then, Iraq’s military has seen significant military victories, with the help of an international coalition that has been assisting with airstrikes and weapons as well as a robust advise-and-assist operation.

The United States has about 5,200 US forces in Iraq, but that number doesn’t include a few thousand forces who are there on temporary duty or don’t count in the military personnel accounting system for other reasons.

In neighboring Syria, the United States has more than 1,000 ground troops. There, the United States is shifting from working quietly behind the scenes on Syria’s toxic battlefield, turning instead toward overt displays of US force in an attempt to shape the fight ahead of efforts to recapture the Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa.


Trump greeted Abadi in the Oval Office shortly after FBI director James Comey testified before a congressional committee that the FBI and Justice Department have no information to substantiate Trump’s claims that Obama wiretapped him before the election.

As reporters were leaving, Abadi leaned over to Trump and joked, ‘‘We have nothing to do with the wiretap.’’