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U.S. Says It Won’t ‘Take’ Iraq’s Oil As Russia Expands Influence

Less than a day after U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis contradicted Trump’s oft-repeated maxim that we should have taken Iraq’s oil, Russia has moved to expand its footprint in the region with a new oil deal in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Russian state-owned Rosneft PJSC has announced that not only will it purchase Kurdish crude until 2019, but it is also studying exploration and production opportunities there. The deal was announced at the same time that Russia moved to expand its footprint in Libya in a second deal designed to gain more control in the Middle East.

These deals combine potentially good economics for Rosneft and good politics for the Kremlin,” Chris Weafer, a partner at Macro Advisory in Moscow, told Bloomberg. “Expect more deals from Rosneft in the Middle East and North Africa and across the developing world.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary James Mattis told the media ahead of a visit to OPEC’s #2 producer that the U.S. had no intention of simply taking Iraq’s oil, responding to questions about remarks made by President Trump a month ago. Trump made the remarks during a visit to the CIA HQ in January, suggesting that oil could be taken as compensation for the U.S. military involvement in the fight against IS, VOA recalls.

Mattis told reporters, “I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I'm sure that we will continue to do that in the future.

Related: Oil Leaps Higher As OPEC Pushes For 100% Compliance

The Defense Secretary’s talk with media also touched on the so-called travel ban introduced by Trump and stayed by several courts, saying he was certain that Iraqis who fought alongside Americans against IS would be allowed entry into the United States.

He added that U.S. troops will continue to support the Iraqi army’s advance against the terrorist group, currently focused on the liberation of Mosul, the last stronghold of IS in the country, and they will remain in the country for awhile afterwards. The extended stay of the U.S. troops in Iraq has been the topic of discussion.

Supporters argue this presence would facilitate the country’s return to normal, helping to prevent inter-sectarian violence from filling the vacuum left by IS. Opponents believe that such a presence would compromise Iraq’s sovereignty and be conducive to fresh conflicts between different religious and ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers are no longer restricted to remote support, and are now fighting closer to the front lines in Mosul, the chief in command of the U.S. troops in Iraq Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said. The battle for Mosul has proved to be a challenge, and is already into its fourth month.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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