Talking to 964media

Exclusive: U.S. Official: We are in dialogue with Iraq, ‘refuse to withdraw at gunpoint’

NEWSROOM — A senior U.S. official, freshly returned from Baghdad, emphasized that the ongoing military dialogue with Iraq should not be termed “negotiations,” but rather “discussions to develop the security partnership” between the two nations. Speaking to 964media, the official, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the talks, described them as “heated discussions” between the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon regarding attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq.

The official highlighted that the Iraqi government contains partners with “valuable perspectives” on threats facing Iraq, noting that the current prime security concern is not ISIS. This revelation came during a phone interview with 964media, as the official was returning from an official trip to Baghdad, expressing optimism for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani’s role following a decrease in attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq.

Initially, Americans believed the Iraqi call for a rapid withdrawal was merely rhetoric to cool down internal tensions among Shiite parties. However, an internal memo circulated by the U.S. State Department days after the killing of Abu Taqwa al-Saeedi revealed that al-Sudani privately informed Washington he did not desire U.S. forces to leave but made the call to appease domestic pressures, with outcomes yet to be seen.

The dialogue between the Pentagon and the State Department was described as fiery, focusing on how to appropriately respond to the Iraqi call (not a request), aiming to prevent an uncalculated course in the region and “refusing to withdraw at gun point”. The Pentagon, described as eager for swift field responses and opposed to cautious political balances, eventually aligned with President Biden’s final decision.

Policy makers outlined al-Sudani’s navigation of a complex crisis, balancing escalations in Gaza with delicate relations with Iran, likening his situation to walking a tightrope. These cautious plans drawn by Washington’s Iraq file handlers reportedly did not sit well with military officials, underscoring a preference for clear, decisive action.

Clarifying the nature of discussions in Baghdad earlier in January, the official stressed they were not negotiations but technical talks aimed at enhancing the U.S. mission in Iraq. Despite the conclusion of the first round of talks, a specific list of targets was pursued independently of the dialogue, which the official reiterated was not negotiation-based.

Before the first session attended by General Joel Faul, the U.S. communicated to Iraqi officials their capability to counter terrorist groups, albeit less effectively without U.S. support, highlighting the need for additional budget to cover the costs of the U.S. absence. The dialogue with the Iraqi government also involved high-value perspectives on threat assessments, indicating that concerns over ISIS are currently not the greatest threat, according to partners outside the Coordination Framework.

The decrease in factional attacks on U.S. bases has reportedly eased pressure on Prime Minister al-Sudani, fostering hope for the success of his strategy in cooling down the internal political turmoil.