U.S.-Iraqi ties discussed amidst regional tensions

Iraq’s Prime Minister Al-Sudani meets U.S. president Biden

WASHINGTON — Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday, marking his first official visit to the United States since taking office in October 2022.

The leaders discussed a shift in the bilateral relationship from military to broader economic and cultural ties, amidst ongoing regional tensions, particularly concerning Iran and Israel.

President Biden expressed a shared commitment to strengthen Iraq’s economy and its energy independence. “That’s a goal we share today with you and we are going to discuss that later today,” Biden stated during the meeting.

In response, Prime Minister Al-Sudani emphasized the importance of this visit in fortifying bilateral relations and expressed his desire for a “comprehensive and long-term partnership with the United States.” He outlined the transition from a primarily security-focused relationship to one based on “economic, cultural, and political foundations,” in accordance with the Strategic Framework Agreement signed between the two countries in 2006.

While there are differences in positions on the U.S. amongst the Iraqi political spectrum, the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq has heavily centered on security concerns, particularly the joint fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). “We fought together and triumphed over terrorism,” Al-Sudani noted, adding that Iraq is now in a recovery phase with ongoing developmental projects and urban progress. This is largely seen as an attempt by Al-Sudani to appease the anti-U.S. camp at home.

Looking forward, the Iraqi Prime Minister discussed establishing a sustainable partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement, with the bilateral military committee playing a crucial role in transitioning military engagements to more comprehensive cooperation.

There’s a divergence of views between Al-Sudani and certain staunchly pro-Iran factions within his Coordination Framework governing coalition regarding this matter. These groups, recognized for their armed activities against U.S. troops and Israel, advocate for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Conversely, Al-Sudani and the more pragmatic segments of the Framework advocate for a gradual transition and restructuring of the mode of presence and responsibilities of the U.S.-led Global Coalition in Iraq. While U.S. officials have indicated that their forces will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future, they have expressed openness to renegotiating certain aspects of their troop’s presence and engagement with Iraq.

The talks also touched on the broader Middle Eastern context, especially the recent Iranian attack on Israel. President Biden reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to Israel’s security and to a cease-fire aimed at ending the conflict and preventing its escalation.

Al-Sudani, however, expressed Iraq’s differing stance from the U.S. “in the spirit of partnership” by talking about regional humanitarian issues, advocating for adherence to international law and the protection of civilians. “We reject any assault on civilians, especially women and children, and urge adherence to international laws and norms in protecting diplomatic missions,” he added, referring to the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Al-Sudani also met earlier today with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during which they discussed a range of issues, from economic cooperation to regional security and the Kurdistan Region’s disputes with Baghdad.