U.S. Ambassador Nominee: ‘Iran-aligned Militias’ are ‘Primary Threat’ to Iraq; Will Strengthen U.S. Partnership with Kurdistan Region

“Our partnership with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region remains a cornerstone of our broader relationship with Iraq."
A picture of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.  (Photo: Pentagon)
A picture of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. (Photo: Pentagon)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Amb. Tracy Jacobson testified on Thursday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. President Joe Biden has nominated her to be America’s next ambassador to Iraq, and her testimony was part of the confirmation process.

“We recognize that the primary threat to Iraq’s stability and sovereignty are the Iran-aligned militias,” Jacobson told the committee. “These groups receive weapons, training, and other support from Iran, and use their arms and cash to promote Iran’s influence over Iraq.”

“If confirmed, I will use the full range of U.S. policy tools to counter these malign groups and stem Iran’s influence,” she said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (Dem, Connecticut), Chairman of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, led the hearing, and he spoke similarly in his opening remarks.

“Iran’s influence and the influence of paramilitary organizations are growing every day in Iraq,” he said, “and we have some tough decisions to make there.”

Importance of Kurdistan Region

In her testimony, Jacobson stressed the importance of maintaining good ties between Washington and Erbil, while promoting stable relations between Erbil and Baghdad.

“Our partnership with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region remains a cornerstone of our broader relationship with Iraq,” she said. “Stabilizing the Baghdad-Erbil relationship will bring benefits to all Iraqis.”

“If confirmed, I look forward to strengthening our partnership with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region in the context of our overall relationship with federal Iraq,” she affirmed.

Other Priorities: Fighting ISIS; Promoting Democracy; Economic Growth

In addition to countering the influence of Iran and its proxies in Iraq, while promoting relations with Erbil, Jacobson also described three other goals she would pursue as ambassador.

One goal is to work with the government of Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani to transition the basis of the U.S. military presence in Iraq from that of the anti-ISIS Coalition to “a bilateral security arrangement,” as Jacobson stated.

That transition is something that Sudani has requested. However, it does not mean the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq or an end to the fight against ISIS.

Read More: Pentagon: US, Iraq to Discuss Future Security Cooperation—not Troop Withdrawal

As Jacobson told the committee, “If confirmed, I will safeguard U.S. security interests by advancing Iraq’s stability, security, and sovereignty.”

“ISIS remains a threat to Iraq,” and “our military provides vital support in an advise, assist, and enable role to the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.”

She noted that it had been 10 years since U.S. troops had returned to Iraq, following their premature withdrawal by President Barack Obama, and five years since ISIS’s territorial defeat in Iraq, 

“It is time for our military to transition to a new role.” she said. “If confirmed, I will ensure any transition from Operation Inherent Resolve to a bilateral security arrangement will be geared toward the defeat of ISIS and Iraq’s security.”

Jacobson also cited two other key objectives. One is “bolstering Iraq’s democracy and good governance.”

“Iraq needs to improve its protection of the rights and freedoms of its citizens, including its ethnic and religious minorities,” she said. “Since 2018, the United States has provided over $500 million in assistance to these minorities.”

“If confirmed, I will prioritize U.S. policies and programs that strengthen Iraq’s democratic governance and build durable solutions for Iraq’s displaced and minority populations, including Christians and Yezidis and those at al-Hol in Syria.”

Later in the hearing, in an exchange with senators, she explained that there were still 19,000 Iraqis at the al-Hol camp, where ISIS fighters and their families are detained.

Iraqis constitute nearly half the population of al-Hol. Of course, those detained at al-Hol are not Christians or Yezidis. They are Sunni Arabs, and Jacobson stressed the importance of “getting to an eventual closure” of the camp, as it could become a recruiting ground for a new generation of terrorists. 

Jacobson also stressed the importance of “fostering Iraq’s economic growth.”

“If confirmed, I will promote U.S. investment and work with the Iraqi government to implement reforms to improve the investment climate for the private sector, including by reducing corruption and increasing transparency,” she said. 

In addition, “I will strengthen the commercial ties that already exist between Iraq and U.S. companies and develop new opportunities.”