Trump threatens Iraq with 'very big sanctions' if it kicks out U.S. forces

Anti-war protesters in Seattle
(Image credit: David Ryder/Getty Images)

A majority of Iraq's parliament voted Sunday in favor of a resolution urging the Iraqi government to kick the U.S. military out of the country. "The Trump administration tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade top Iraqi officials to kill" the vote, Axios reports, and when that failed, President Trump turned to his well-used cudgel: "sanctions."

"If they do ask us to leave," and "if there's any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq," Trump told reporters Sunday afternoon aboard Air Force One. "We will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before ever. It'll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame."

Trump also said invading Iraq was "the worst decision, going into the Middle East was the worst decision ever made in the history of our country," but "we have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that's there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We're not leaving unless they pay us back for it." (The air base Trump is talking about, Al Asad, was built long before his time, "by ... Iraq, in the '80s," CNN's Daniel Dale noted, adding that the U.S. did spend millions (not billions) on improvements to the base.)

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Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has said he's resigning, has to sign the bill before it would take effect. One U.S. official told Axios that kicking out U.S. forces "would be inconvenient for us, but it would be catastrophic for Iraq" and its security. Another official said "we still have a fairly significant ISIS problem," and "it hasn't escaped ISIS's attention that Iraq is in something of disarray right now."

NBC's Richard Engel made a similar point from Erbil, Iraq, on Sunday. But he also said that when he "saw the 82nd Airborne getting those packs and heading back to the region yesterday, and then there was a rocket attack into the Green Zone and I'm once again here on a rooftop in Iraq talking about Shiite militias and troops coming to the region, I thought: Wow, we are back in 2007 at the peak of the violence here, when the U.S was fighting on multiple fronts against ISIS — it was Al Qaeda then, now it's ISIS — and against Shia militias and Iran, with Iraq back in play."

"Who knew we wanted those days to come back," Engel said.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.