US ‘not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil’: Mattis
BAGHDADThe United States is not about to plunder Iraq’s petroleum reserves, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who arrived in Baghdad on Feb. 20, said as he sought to soothe partners rattled by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump has repeatedly said both while campaigning and since his election that America, whose troops occupied Iraq for eight years, should have grabbed Iraqi oil to help fund its war effort and to deprive the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of a vital revenue source.
But Mattis, a retired Marine general who commanded troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, appeared to nix the idea.
“All of us in America have generally paid for gas and oil all along, and I am sure that we will continue to do so in the future,” Mattis told reporters at the start of a visit to Iraq.
“We are not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” he said.
While speaking at the CIA headquarters last month, Trump cited the adage, “To the victor belong the spoils,” and said America “should have kept the oil” after pulling most of its troops out of the country under his predecessor Barack Obama.
The president then added, without elaborating, that “maybe we’ll have another chance.”
Iraq on Feb. 19 reported a total 153 billion barrels in proven oil reserves, the fifth largest in the world behind Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Iran.
Iraqi forces battle their way toward Mosul airport
Meanwhile, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces fought ISIL fighters on Feb. 20 to clear the way to Mosul’s airport, on the second day of a ground offensive on the jihadists’ remaining stronghold in the western side of the city.
Federal police and elite interior ministry units known as Rapid Response are leading the charge toward the airport, located on the southern limit of the Mosul, trying to dislodge the militants from the nearby hilltop village of Albu Saif.
The Iraqi forces plan is to turn the airport into a close support base for the onslaught into western Mosul itself.
ISIL militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 750,000 civilians, after they were forced out of the eastern part of the city in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month, after 100 days of fighting.
“They are striking and engaging our forces and pulling back towards Mosul,” Major Mortada Ali Abd of the Rapid Response units told a Reuters correspondent south of Mosul. “God willing Albu Saif will be fully liberated today.”