Politicians and the people of Iraq have responded to Donald Trump’s unlikely ascension to President of the United States – with the same mixture of surprise, shock, delight and diplomatically measured congratulations, seen around the world in the last 24 hours.
The 45th Commander in Chief has said little of substance about Iraq since he launched his campaign in June last year. Despite supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq until August 2004, Trump has repeatedly claimed that he never wanted to see US troops in the country.
He has blamed the rise of ISIL on the US withdraw from Iraq in 2011, but in both claims he has failed to expand on his policy towards the country should he take power. Now that he has, Iraqis are divided over what to expect.
Sunni and Kurdish leaders were the first to release statements, with President Fuad Maasum, a Kurd, saying: “I speak for myself and the Iraqi people, and congratulate the American people for electing a new President I wish them and their country success, peace and prosperity, and hope to further strengthen our relationship.”
Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, a Sunni, similarly released a statement soon after Trump had passed the electoral college majority. “I and the people of Iraq congratulate the American people for electing their new President. We hope that the next four year will bring many accomplishments in terms of the situation in Iraq and the Middle East; especially with regards to the war on ISIL and terrorism, as it is vital in achieving peace in the region and the world.”
Shia elements were slower to react to the news, leading to speculation that Trump’s hawkish stance towards Iran had silenced even Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. His eventual statement, some hours after the election result was confirmed, focused on eliminating the threat of extremism: “We are looking forward to the continuation of US support in the war against terrorism, which is a threat to the whole world.”
Unsurprisingly, calls for national and global stability dominated pronouncements. Former PM Ayad Allawi said: “We would like to congratulate the newly elected US President, and we wish him success. We would also like to express our support for the United States in its fight for freedom and peace across the whole world.”
The Sadrists, long time opponents of US policy in the region, reiterated their stance, saying that the country is “an enemy to the Middle East”, no matter who is at the helm. In the deeply conservative Shia majority city of Basra, where Muqtada al-Sadr enjoys enormous support, one resident said: “America’s plans don’t change, only the faces change.”
Across the country, Yalla spoke with Iraqis as they went about their everyday business. Reactions ranged from the cautious and optimistic, right the way through to plain disinterested. As one Dwaniyah resident said: “Their elections have nothing to do with us. We need to focus on our government and our situation. It doesn’t make a difference who wins.”
Another resident of al-Qadisiyyah’s provincial capital echoed the need to focus on Iraq: “I don’t care about America’s elections. I only care about our country’s situation, especially in terms of education.” One more expressed concern about an unknown quantity: “We don’t know anything about Trump, whether he’s good or bad. Only time will tell.”
In the far south city of Basra, people looked to his predecessor, and his progeny. “We hope that he’s better than Obama. Obama wasn’t good and couldn’t get rid of terrorism,” said one man, while his friend stated: “One of the main reasons he won is his daughter. Many Iraqis support Trump and are happy.”
In Baghdad, while there was exasperation – “I am surprised that Iraqis are so concerned with the US elections. Anyway, the world’s gone mad after Trump’s election.” – there was also concern: “I’m not optimistic, because he’s against Islam. He wasn’t very positive about Iraq and that makes me concerned. So far, the coalition airstrikes are not enough.”
Tackling extremism was a concern in the nation’s capital, although weariness is obvious: “Nothing’s changed since George Bush Senior. They won’t change anything now,” and “We want a stricter policy on terrorism from the US, although only names change in the White House,” were common sentiments.
For one man, there was cause for optimism: “Clinton’s views are always arrogant, such as not using force with ISIL until we reached the election time, which was very bad for Iraq. Trump is very straightforward when it comes to terrorism. Also, Trump has good relations with Russia which will prevent a third world war from happening.”