By Rudaw 41 minutes ago
Matthew Tueller, incoming US ambassador to Iraq, attends a military ceremony in Mukalla, Yemen, November 29, 2018. File photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Matthew Tueller was confirmed on Thursday as the new US ambassador to Iraq. He assumes the post against a backdrop of escalating tensions between the US and Iran, which could have serious repercussions for Baghdad.
“Our long standing principle objective is to bolster Iraq as a sovereign, stable, and democratic partner of the United States,” Tueller told his confirmation hearing in the Senate back in March.
“We must remain engaged to ensure that Iraq can fend off the internal, external threats, including threats from Iran to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Prescient words from a US diplomat who will arrive in the Iraqi capital just as many of America’s non-emergency personnel are making for the exit, following the raising of the threat level posed by neighboring Iran and its Iraqi proxies.
Tueller joined the Foreign Service in 1985 after earning a BA in international relations from Brigham Young University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard.
He has spent most of his career in the Middle East. His early overseas assignments include Kuwait, Jordan, and Qatar. He went on to work in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq. His first appointment as ambassador came in 2011 to Kuwait.
Ryan Crocker, a former US diplomat, has said Tueller “probably has the best Arabic of anyone in the Foreign Service”.
The seasoned diplomat is now leaving his post as ambassador to Yemen, where he has served from 2014 and was involved in negotiations between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces.
He has earned a reputation for his steadfast support for Saudi Arabia and ardent criticism of Iran – accusing it of fomenting instability in the region.
“I’m not saying that Iran is the source of all of the instability – but we see that opportunistically, they’re going in,” Tueller told the Associated Press last year while posted in Yemen. “They’re throwing gasoline on the fire in an area of the world that’s so important to all of us.”
During his Senate hearing, Tueller said in order for Iraq to stabilize it needs to “move towards a vision for national unity in which all its communities play a part”. American determination to see Iraq as a “pillar of stability” stands in direct contrast with “Iran’s agenda, which seeks to exploit divisions, weaken state institutions and foster extremism,” he added.
Tueller’s appointment to Iraq comes as the Trump administration turns up the heat on Iran, which enjoys deep political, economic, military, and religious ties with its Iraqi neighbour.
He told his Senate hearing the administrations moves are not an attempt to “sever the relationship between Iraq and Iran”.
“What we want to see is a normal, healthy relationship based on respect of sovereignty and Iraq wanting to build an Iraq that is strong, stable, and sovereign,” Tueller said.
Tueller called the US-Kurdish relationship “an historic one, a long-lasting one” and said he intends “to make sure that relationship is one that’s solid”. He also emphasized that “a good, solid relationship” between Baghdad and Erbil is important for the US, and that he intends to “ensure that the relationship is a positive one”.
He added that the safety of religious minorities that had been targeted by the Islamlic State (ISIS) would be a priority and that he would “work diligently to promote prospects for their survival in Iraq”.
Tueller is entering a hostile diplomatic environment as tensions with Iran deepen.
The US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, arguing the Obama-era accord failed to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and from interfering in Middle East conflicts.
Washington imposed a raft of sanctions targeting Iran’s economy and oil sector and designated the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. Tehran responded in kind by designating US Central Command (CENTCOM) as a terror group.
In recent days, the US has withdrawn non-emergency personnel from its Baghdad and Erbil missions and urged US citizens to leave the country, citing an unspecified threat from Iran and its proxies. The US has also deployed an aircraft carrier group and B52 bombers to the Gulf.
Trump hopes the move will bring Iran to the negotiating table, but observers fear such brinkmanship threatens plunging the region into war.