We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil: Mattis

The US military is "not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil", Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said as he arrived for talks with Iraqi leaders on Monday, distancing himself from remarks by President Donald Trump.
Iraqi forces, supported by paramilitaries, advancing near the village of Sheikh Younis, south of Mosul, after the offensive to retake the western side of the city from ISIS on Sunday. US Defence Secretary Mr Mattis said US Special Forces will not get
Iraqi forces, supported by paramilitaries, advancing near the village of Sheikh Younis, south of Mosul, after the offensive to retake the western side of the city from ISIS on Sunday. US Defence Secretary Mr Mattis said US Special Forces will not get any closer to the fighting in western Mosul than they have in eastern Mosul.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BAGHDAD • United States Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Baghdad yesterday, promising that, despite what President Donald Trump said last month, the administration would not try to seize Iraq's oil.

Nor, he said, would the administration repay Iraqis who have worked and fought side by side with American troops by excluding them from the US - as Mr Trump initially did with an executive order shutting the door to citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries, including Iraq. That order has been stayed by the courts and is expected to be replaced soon.

"I have not seen the new executive order," Mr Mattis said on Sunday. "But right now, I'm assured that we will take steps to allow those who have fought alongside us to be allowed into the United States."

As for Mr Trump's remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters last month that the US should have "kept" Iraq's oil after the American-led invasion, and might still have a chance to do so, Mr Mattis said that Americans were accustomed to paying for their fuel.

"We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," he told reporters in Abu Dhabi before departing for Baghdad.

  • 5,000 

  • Number of US troops in Iraq who are assisting Iraqi forces in the fight against terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

That Mr Mattis, the first senior official in the Trump administration to visit Iraq, would even have to make such comments would have been unthinkable under previous administrations.

In Iraq, about 5,000 US troops are assisting Iraqi forces in the fight against terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). That fight went up a gear on Sunday with the start of a major operation by the Iraqi security forces to liberate the western side of Mosul, once Iraq's second-largest city.

Over the weekend, airplanes carpeted the ground in western Mosul with leaflets appealing directly to ISIS fighters to surrender.

While in Baghdad, Mr Mattis plans to hold talks with Iraqi officials as well as US military commanders. "I need to get current on the situation" in Iraq, he said. "And the only way you can do this is talking to the people on the ground."

He said that, though power has been transferred in Washington, the rules of engagement in Iraq have not changed, and US Special Forces will not get any closer to the fighting in western Mosul than they have in eastern Mosul, which has largely been cleared of militant control.

"The US forces continue in the same role as they did in east Mosul," Mr Mattis said.

He said that US-backed coalition forces fighting ISIS would "continue with the accelerated effort to destroy ISIL", referring to an alternative name for the group.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil: Mattis'. Print Edition | Subscribe