The Federal Reserve building in Washington, Septemper 2019
T. J. Kirckpatrick / The New York Times / Redux

When Iraqi lawmakers voted to expel U.S. forces from the country earlier this month, the Trump administration’s response was swift and forceful: it refused to withdraw and, for good measure, threatened financial retaliation, saying it would freeze Iraq’s accounts at the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The threat seems to have been effective. Although Iraqi officials still seethe over a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad on January 3, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has said that his caretaker government lacks the authority to push for a U.S. withdrawal, and American troops have resumed joint operations with their Iraqi counterparts. 

But that sense of normalcy is deceiving. U.S. forces were in the country at the invitation of the Iraqi government to help in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS. By refusing to withdraw them, the Trump administration is turning a

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  • HENRY FARRELL is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.
  • ABRAHAM NEWMAN is Professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Government Department at Georgetown University.
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