US Defense Secretary Mattis: No plan to seize Iraqi oil

US Defense Secretary Mattis: No plan to seize Iraqi oil
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today the United States does not intend to seize Iraqi oil, shifting away from an idea proposed by President Donald Trump that has rattled Iraq's leaders. Mattis' arrived on an unannounced visit in Iraq as the battle to oust Islamic State militants from western Mosul moved into its second day, and as the Pentagon considers ways to accelerate the campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Those efforts could be complicated by Trump's oil threat and his inclusion of Iraq in the administration's travel ban twin blows that have roiled the nation and spurred local lawmakers to pressure Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reduce cooperation with Washington. "I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I'm sure that we will continue to do that in the future," Mattis told reporters traveling with him. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil."

His comments may provide some reassurance to the Iraqis. But the tensions come at a critical point in the war against IS, with two key battles in the works: the fight to take control of west Mosul, and the start of a campaign in Syria to oust IS from Raqqa, the capital of its self-declared caliphate. Al-Abadi has taken a measured approach, but the issues can roil already difficult internal politics. Under the president's deadline, Mattis has just a week to send Trump a strategy to accelerate the fight and defeat the Islamic State group. And any plan is likely to depend on US and coalition troops working with and through the local forces in both countries.

"We're going to make certain that we've got good situational awareness of what we face as we work together and fight alongside each other," Mattis said. His key goal during the visit is to speak about the military operations with political leaders and commanders on the ground, including his top commander in Iraq, Lt Gen Stephen Townsend. Asked about the tensions, Mattis said he has been assured that the travel ban it has been stalled by a legal challenge would not affect Iraqis who have fought alongside US forces. The oil issue, however, may be more difficult.

Trump brought it up during the campaign, and he mentioned it again late last month during a visit to the CIA. "To the victor belong the spoils," Trump told members of the intelligence community. He said he first argued this case for "economic reasons," but added it made sense as a counterterrorism approach to defeating IS "because that's where they made their money in the first place."
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