TRUMP talks Islamic State, Iran pol­icy with Iraq leader.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - VI­VIAN SALAMA In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Lolita Baldor of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Mon­day held his first meet­ing with Iraq’s prime min­is­ter as the new pres­i­dent shapes his pol­icy for de­feat­ing the Islamic State ex­trem­ist group.

With Iraq’s Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi at the White House, Trump said Iran was one of the con­cerns fac­ing his team and the Iraqi del­e­ga­tion. He took the op­por­tu­nity to crit­i­cize the nu­clear deal his pre­de­ces­sor, Barack Obama, pur­sued with Iran.

“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.”

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.

Speak­ing after Trump dur­ing the bi­lat­eral meet­ing, al-Abadi said Iraq has “the strong­est coun­tert­er­ror­ism forces, but we are look­ing for­ward to more co­op­er­a­tion be­tween us and the U.S.”

Trump cam­paigned on a prom­ise to ramp up the as­sault on the Islamic State and has vowed to erad­i­cate “rad­i­cal Islamic ter­ror­ism.” So far, he has not in­di­cated a change of course. Like Obama be­fore him, Trump has not sug­gested any sharp in­creases in troop lev­els or in airstrikes against mil­i­tant tar­gets, look­ing to avoid giv­ing off the im­age of an in­vad­ing force.

Trump greeted al-Abadi in the Oval Of­fice shortly after FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey said the FBI and Jus­tice Depart­ment have no in­for­ma­tion to sub­stan­ti­ate Trump’s claims that Obama wire­tapped him be­fore the elec­tion.

As re­porters were leav­ing, al-Abadi leaned over to Trump and joked, “We have noth­ing to do with the wire­tap.”

The Iraqi pre­mier’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.

Dur­ing al-Abadi’s last visit to Wash­ing­ton, the Iraqi pre­mier worked to drum up greater fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary sup­port as he faced the 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 Mon­day af­ter­noon meet­ing at the White House, al-Abadi de­clared in a video state­ment, “We are in the last chap­ter, the fi­nal stages to elim­i­nate [the Islamic State] mil­i­tar­ily in Iraq.”

But as Iraqi forces come closer to re­cap­tur­ing the city of Mo­sul — the 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 U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment. Both con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to peace­keep­ing mis­sions and devel­op­ment pro­grams. 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 counter-Islamic State strat­egy.

Al-Abadi ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton hav­ing al­ready won one con­ces­sion from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The tem­po­rary ban on trav­el­ers from seven coun­tries was rewrit­ten to ex­clude Iraq, after sev­eral Iraqi of­fi­cials and U.S. law­mak­ers ob­jected to Iraq’s in­clu­sion, not­ing the risks and sac­ri­fices that many Iraqis made as­sist­ing U.S. troops dur­ing and after the 2003 U.S.-led in­va­sion that top­pled Sad­dam Hus­sein. U.S. courts have blocked the rewrit­ten ban.

The lead­ers’ pub­lic com­ments did not touch on Trump’s re­mark on the day he took of­fice that the U.S. may get a chance to take Iraq’s oil as com­pen­sa­tion for its ef­forts there — some­thing al-Abadi, and later, De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis, re­buffed.

Al-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 U.S. has sent about 5,200 U.S. forces to 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.

AP/EVAN VUCCI

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump meets with Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi on Mon­day in the Oval Of­fice of the White House in Wash­ing­ton.

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