May 30, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10632

U.S. Ambassador In Iraq Sparks Mixed Reactions, From Calls To Expel Her To Awe At Her Ability And Influence

May 30, 2023
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 10632

It seems that everyone in Iraq has an opinion about U.S. Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski, especially in light of her extensive activity. Romanowksi started her career as a CIA analyst and served in a variety of American intelligence and government agencies. Her most recent post before her appointment as ambassador to Iraq was as ambassador to Kuwait.[1] Since assuming her latest position in June 2022, the ambassador has held numerous meetings with heads of state, ministers, ministry directors and tribal leaders, and has inaugurated museums, power stations, branches of American food chains, and more. These endeavors have sparked many reactions from the Iraqi public, mostly from supporters of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias, who believe that her activities deviate from accepted diplomatic practice and constitute explicit interference in Iraq's internal affairs, to the extent of running the country. These critics have called to expel Romanowski and have even issued death threats against her. Others in Iraq claim that her conduct is due to the weakness of the Iraqi state, and point out that, paradoxically, Iraq has such a proactive U.S. ambassador at a time when its government incorporates the Coordination Framework, a coalition of Shi'ite political parties that are political arms of several Iran-backed militias, and which are vociforous opponents of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Previous U.S. ambassadors, as well as UN and British representatives, have likewise been and continue to be treated with hostility by Iran-backed elements in Iraq.[2] However, it appears that, due to her strong presence on social media, the criticism against Romanowksi is especially harsh.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Alina L. Romanowski (Source:

The following are some of the responses in Iraq to the ambassador and her conduct.

Iran-Backed Shi'ite Militias: The Ambassador Should Be Expelled; We Will Prevent Her From Acting Freely

The hostility expressed towards Romanowksi by the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias, headed by the Al-Nujaba Movement and the Sayyid Al-Shuhada Brigades, and by their supporters is not surprising. Even before her appointment, when her candidacy came up, opposition to it was expressed on the Telegram channels that support these militias, chief of them Sabereen News and Shaajab News. The channels tried to discredit her and present her as an intelligence agent rather than a diplomat, emphasizing her past with the CIA and her ties to Israel.[3] After her appointment as ambassador to Iraq, these elements mocked and criticized her activities and initiatives, such as her support for Iraqi businesswomen  and civil society organizations, describing them as looting Iraqi resources and an attempt to sow rifts and division among the Iraqi people.[4] This criticism increased after measures taken by the U.S. vis-à-vis the Central Bank of Iraq in an effort to prevent money laundering and a flow of dollars into Iran and Syria led to a plunge in the value of the Iraqi dinar and deepened the economic crisis in Iraq.[5]

About six months after she became ambassador, the militia mouthpieces began calling to replace her, on the grounds that she was overstepping the boundaries of her position and violating diplomatic norms.[6] In the recent weeks, the militias and their supporters have escalated their threats against the ambassador. On May 16, the Ashab Al-Kahf group, which has claimed responsibility for several attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and is apparently affiliated with the Al-Nujaba Movement, called on Iran-backed Shi'ite groups that have recently ceased their activity to renew it and to "silence the American female demon [Romanowski] in Baghdad."[7]

Another claim made by the militias, chiefly by the Al-Nujaba Movement (which is not represented in the Iraqi parliament), which has also been made in the past, before Romanowski's appointment, is that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is not a diplomatic mission but a military post and is therefore a legitimate target for attack. In a speech he gave to mark International Qods Day on April 14, 2023, [8] Al-Nujaba secretary-general Akram Al-Ka'abi attacked the U.S. and asserted that it fosters corruption in Iraq, tramples all international norms and is in fact occupying Iraq. He stressed that Al-Nujaba opposes the American presence in the country, including the presence of Romanowksi, "the ambassador of evil" who violates the accepted diplomatic norms, as well as the presence of  a military base in the heart of Baghdad that is "deceptively called an embassy."[9] A similar message was conveyed by a cartoon published by the movement on May 15, which shows a crowd of people gathered opposite the U.S. Embassy – which is depicted as a military base – demanding the expulsion of the American forces. Romanowksi, standing at a window, says, "This is a military base… No, sorry, it's a diplomatic mission."[10]

MPs from the Shi'ite parties comprising the Coordination Framework, which, as mentioned, forms a considerable part of the government, also protested against Romanowksi's conduct and began to take measures to remove her. In early March 2023, the Al-Sadiqoun parliamentary bloc, the political arm of the Iran-backed Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq movement, demanded that Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein be summoned for a hearing to discuss "the interference of Romanowksi in Iraq's internal affairs." Al-Sadiqoun spokesman Muhammad Al-Baldawi said that the movement intended to make efforts to remove Romanowksi from her position due to her "suspicious" activity that "is not in accordance with diplomatic norms," and because, since her appointment, she has conducted herself as "the high commissioner and patron of Iraq."[11] 

Iraqi Writers: Romanowski Behaves Like The New "Civilian Governor" Of Iraq, And As Though We Are Not A Sovereign State

Criticism of the ambassador's behavior also came from Iraqi writers and commentators who are not supporters of the Iran-led resistance axis. They complained that Romanowksi behaves like the high commissioner of Iraq, and expressed despair over the current state of the country, which, they said, has not managed to shake off either the American patronage or the Iranian one.

Iraqi political commentator Samir Daoud Hannoush accused the ambassador of violating all diplomatic ethics and behaving like the de-facto ruler of Iraq. In an article he published in the UAE daily Al-Arab on March 7, 2023, following the aforementioned steps taken by the U.S. vis-à-vis the Central Bank of Iraq in a bid to prevent the flow of foreign currency to Iran and Syria, Hannoush wrote: "She has been described as the 'iron lady,' and some have claimed that she is the [real] decision-maker in Iraq. Others have called her a female version of the [former] civil governor of Iraq, Paul Bremer, who ruled the country after 2003. The Iraqi citizen sees her on television more often than his own politicians and statesmen…" Hannoush added that the true rulers of Iraq are "the Americans, who control the dollar, and the subjects must meekly obey…"[12]

In a column in the Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, Iraqi journalist Abdul Latif Al-Sa'adoun wrote that Romanowski's behavior is no different from that of a former Iranian ambassador to Iraq who relayed instructions from the Iranian leadership to "his subordinates," i.e., the Iraqi officials. Al-Sa'adoun wrote, "No one can compete with Romanowski in the number of meetings [with Iraqi officials],  except for her twin Iraj Masjedi, the [former] Iranian ambassador [to Iraq], who met with all the influential senior officials, some of whom he summoned to his office to relay the advice – or rather instructions – of Wali Al-Faqih [i.e., Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei]." Al-Sadoun also referred to the visit of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to Iraq in early March, during which he met with the heads of two Iran-backed militias that the U.S. has designated as terrorist groups. The two were Qais Al-Khaz'ali, head of the 'Asaeb Ahl Al-Haqq militia, and Rayan Al-Kildani, head of the Christian Babylon movement and of its military wing, the Babylon Battalions.[13] Al-Sadoun wrote that all these developments have caused  "despair" among the Iraqis, who had hoped that their future would be better and would allow them to forget the past 20 years, but instead there seems to be no end in sight to the period of submission to foreign elements.[14]

Cartoon for article by Al-Sadoun: the U.S. and Iran ride the Iraqi "camel" to the point where it collapses (Source: Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, London, March 8, 2023)

Conversely, some have criticized Romanowksi for not doing enough to promote human rights in Iraq, and of using this issue only as a pretext to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs. Husein Al-Sabawi, an Iraqi researcher and commentator, wrote that the ambassador is known for "interfering in all Iraqi affairs – large and small" and meeting with ministers and ministry heads whenever she chooses, "things that no ambassador in the world does unless he is the 'high commissioner' of an occupied country." However, in all her meetings with these senior officials, "she ignores [the issues of] human rights, the violation of the rights of prisoners in the Iraqi jails, which have the worst reputation, and the situation of the displaced and the refugees. She also hasn't lifted a finger regarding the militias that are included in the U.S. list of designated terrorist groups." Therefore, Al-Sabawi concludes that the U.S., Iran and the Iran-backed militias have common interests, and that the U.S. uses the issues of human rights and democracy only to intervene in countries' internal affairs. He ends his article with a call to set up a roadmap for ending the American and Iranian hegemony over Iraq and its apparatuses.[15]

Iraqi Writers: Shi'ite Militias Don't Dare Oppose Romanowksi

Some also argued that the militia's opposition to Romanowksi is in fact weaker than their opposition to previous U.S. ambassadors, probably because the Coordination Framework is part of the current government. In another article he published, Samir Daoud Hannoush wrote: "In a normal country where there is sovereignty and a political government whose laws are respected, and where diplomatic norms are accepted practice, the American ambassador would have been expelled immediately for interfering in the country's internal affairs." Mocking the resistance factions for doing nothing to stop this interference by Romanowksi, Hannoush  stated that "she is undoubtedly the most senior administrator in Iraq, yet and the government of the so-called 'resistance' has not even dared to look this First Lady directly in the eye since it received her blessing to form the government." He added that the rockets of the resistance "have rusted. They do not fire at the embassy of Alina [Romanowksi], and their declarations about expelling the [American] occupier in accordance with the laws passed by their own parliament have disappeared." He concluded that "the Iraqi people don't see the point of holding elections if the final word belongs to an outside element… Many believe that Romanowksi speaks Iraqi better than the Iraqi officials do. She is the leader who is helping us in the foreign currency crisis…"[16] 

Iraqi publicist 'Ali Qasem Al-Safir made similar points in a sarcastic post on his Facebook page, writing: "Alina Romanowksi, how great you are, my lady, and how adept at removing obstacles… You run the Iraqi government… inaugurate restaurants and shopping malls and tour markets, paying no heed to those who once threatened you. [In fact,] those who threatened you tremble with fear at the mere sound of your name. What have you done to these men that they walk before you with hurried steps? What have you done to the officials that makes them vie for your [good] opinion? What have you done to the senior and junior officials that makes them flock to your door? You are truly great… Their [supreme] leader [i.e Iran's leader Ali Khamenei] ruled that the Americans must be expelled from Iraq in response to the assassination of the leaders [Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Al-Hashd Al-Sha'abi (Popular Mobilization Units, PMU)] at the airport [in Baghdad]. But you have transformed the followers of this jurisprudent [Khamenei] into your soldiers. You activate them when you want to and when you choose to. You have caused them to say that America is a friend, when it used to be their enemy. You have transformed them into stay-at-home people, when their slogan used to be 'death to America'. You have turned them into rational people, proponents of domestic peace, when they used to publicly threaten [the peace], and into insightful people who favor dialogue, when they used to say no to dialogue with America. Thanks to you, hospitals are not burned down, electric towers are not attacked, embassies and [diplomatic] missions are not bombed, crops are not burned and the Green Zone[17] is not surrounded. How exceptional you are and how good at your job!

"I [really] don't know. Are you a woman who is worth a thousand men, or are these men not [really] men? In my opinion, you are not as I described you above. It is the men who face you and surround you who are not [really] men.[18]

Iraqi Journalist: In Contrast To Iraqi Politicians, Romanowski Operates In The Interest Of Iraqi Sovereignty

Unlike the others, there was one writer who dared to defend Romanowksi. Hamed Shihab, an Iraqi commentator and journalist, wrote that when Romanowksi meets with Iraqi politicians who accuse her of disrespecting Iraqi sovereignty, she certainly has an answer: She tells them that the U.S. had expected them to be the ones to protect Iraq's sovereignty and keep Iran from controlling it and exploiting its resources. Shihab agreed that Romanowksi is running the country, but contended that she is doing a good job of it.

He wrote: "The previous U.S. ambassadors were not as firm and emphatic as Romanowksi when facing the Iraqi leadership. Some of them fulfilled the role in a classic manner, not like the representatives of a superpower that had established a political regime in Iraq that is meant to be based on democracy. The White House administration complained [at the time] that its ambassadors were incapable of conveying its messages in a firm and decisive manner to the Iraqi officials. But Romanowksi has broken that mold. She executes her role with determination and, when necessary, she also adopts a policy of 'rebuke' and opposes politicians who want to destroy what she wants to implement or who ignore the demands of her country. She holds officials to account, regardless of their status… The era of the ambassador Romanowksi will not be similar to those of her predecessors… most of whom did not fulfil their roles very well…"

Shihab concluded that Romanowksi "has managed to impose her almost daily presence on most of the heads of the political system in Iraq. She meets with most of the ministers and officials of the country and the parliament… It is she who conveys the messages to the decision makers, and they can only listen to her opinions… Most of the previous U.S. ambassadors in Iraq did not influence the decision makers in it in this way… She is the one whose decisions count in the Iraqi political arena and in its relations with the countries in the region… Recently, she has also managed to find solutions for humanitarian [problems] in Iraq. She reduced the smuggling of funds to Iran and to other countries, estimated at tens of billions of dollars. She subjugated the Central Bank of Iraq to her will by means of a precise monetary system that prevents the smuggling of funds, and especially of dollars… She has managed to resolve crises among political elements and between Baghdad and Erbil… She played a central role in developing the relations between Iraq and Arab countries, especially the Gulf countries… and urges understanding towards opposition elements…"[19]


[1], accessed May 16, 2023.

[2] For example, see MEMRI JTTM Reports about the harsh criticism of and threats against the UN Special Representative for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Enraged By Results Of Iraqi Elections, Iran-Backed Militias Release Poster Demonizing UN Special Representative To Iraq, October 15, 2021; and Iran-Backed Shi'ite Militias In Iraq Accuse Jordan, UAE, UN Of Tampering With Election Results, Threaten To Kill Electoral Commission Staff, October 18, 2021.

[4] See MEMRI JTTM Report, Telegram Channel Affiliated With Iran-backed Militias Mocks U.S. Ambassador, Development Initiatives In Iraq, September 22, 2022; Iran-Backed Outlets In Iraq Disparage Recent Activities Of U.S. Ambassador To Iraq, Mock Anti-Iran Protesters, November 15, 2022;, December 1, 2022;, December 1, 2022; and, November 7, 2022.

[8] International Qods Day was initiated by the founder of the Islamic Revolution regime in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1979 and is marked annually by pro-Palestinian elements across the world on the final Friday of Ramadan.

[9], April 4, 2023.

[10], May 15, 2023.

[11] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 8, 2023.

[12], March 7, 2023.

[13] For more information about that meeting see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10513, UN Secretary-General Meets In Iraq With Heads Of Iran-Backed Militias Who Are Sanctioned By U.S., March 6, 2023.

[15], April 13, 2023.

[16], May 3, 2023.

[17] The Green Zone is the area in Baghdad where government offices and diplomatic missions are concentrated.

[18], May 8, 2023.

[19], March 8, 2023.

Share this Report: