Heading a high-ranking delegation, the Iraqi Prime Minister Mostafa al-Kadhimi visited the US on Thursday and met with the US President Donald Trump.
According to a statement by his office, al-Kadhimi and the US leader talked about bilateral relations and the regional developments during the first meeting since the new government assumed the office in Iraq.
According to the statement, al-Kadhimi during the talks with senior American officials discussed the economy, security, and health.
After 17 years of the American invasion, Iraq remains grappling with various economic, security, and political crises, as well as health predicament as a result of coronavirus pandemic hitting the country for half a year. The US during all these years has been an actor in Iraqís developments and this makes the Washington visit of great and strategic significance from a set of aspects for the Iraqi government.
In other words, although in the years that followed Iraq invasion and appointment of a temporary American ruler for the country the political decision making was left to the Iraqis through election and government formation, Washington continued its paternalist approach towards Iraq through political meddling and military presence.
A conspicuous example of the US paternalism in Iraq can be seen in the remarks of Trump who repeatedly underscored the US need to take control of the Iraqi oil. This policy pushed various PMs in Iraq to take special attention to the White House strategies to pursue their economic and political program and at the same time save their government.
With these in mind, the most important goals al-Kadhimi is pursuing to get the support of the Americans can be brought in two essential categories.
1. Stabilizing Iraq and distancing it from the regional competition which in the past two decades has been detrimental to the Iraqi national security as the US in the Iraqi eyes is an influential actor. One of the key challenges is the continuation of the US military presence in Iraq. This presence makes Iraq soil a scene for regional rivalry as it causes security threats to the neighboring countries. At the same time, it can increase the tensions in Iraq because the Iraqi parliament approved the US exit bill but Washington insists its forces will not withdraw. Since the assassination of Iranís General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqís Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January, several rounds of confrontations occurred between the American forces and anti-occupation resistant forces. If the US continues to reject the Iraqi peopleís demand, the encounters are inclined to intensify in the coming months.
Al-Kadhimi governmentís fashion of implementing the Iraqi parliament bill on foreign force exit is under the focus of powerful anti-American groups in the parliament as the government seeks to implement it through the strategic negotiations with Washington. His success or failure in the implementation of the resolution is decisive in al-Kadhimiís political future while he now leads a transition period.
Seeing it humiliating, Trump will certainly push against the pullout demand by the Iraqis as much as possible and will seek ways to circumvent the parliamentary bill. So far, Trump and his foreign policy team placed their strategy in dealing with Iraqís demand on wasting the time and prolonging the negotiations as they grow a hope to make crucial changes to the forces present in the parliament.
Also, the US holds the option of fueling insecurity across the country by supporting the remnants of the ISIS terrorist group or trying to reignite the popular protests and instability to the country to put strains on the Iraqi government. As long as the Americans hold these options, al-Kadhimi is unlikely to manage to persuade the US to set a timetable for its exit from Iraq to make sure that he will not return from Washington empty-handed.
2. Getting the turbulent economic conditions back on track is another goal sought by al-Kadhimi. The Iraqi government is experiencing very critical days and the US role in this mayhem is undeniable. The sanctions on Iraq from 1990 to 2003 were the most destructive restrictions imposed on a country by the international community. These sanctions along with the bombardment of 1991 roughly devastated Iraqís infrastructure. The single-product economy of Iraq, the emergence of terrorism in Iraq especially ISIS after 2014 that was transferred from Syria to Iraq by American, Israeli, and Saudi intelligence agencies, and the American decline to protect Iraq as was agreed upon in the 2009 security pact made Iraq extremely week. The outbreak of coronavirus and oil price slump added to the Iraqís economic pain and dragged it to the brink of collapse.
Meanwhile, the public demand arrangements from al-Kadhimi to get the economic situation right. The core point here is fighting structural corruption. Also, they expect him to employ a technocratic cabinet away from banding and sharing. The government has to address these demands while the American handling of the oil market and the resultant destructive effects considerably cut the Iraqi governmentís main source of income. At the same time, sanctions on neighboring Iran as the largest provider of Iraq with goods, power, and gas have turned into a political instrument in the hands of Washington against Baghdad.
At the same time, the US government itself is dealing with an economic crisis as a result of the pandemic and so can hardly help Baghdad weather the economic difficulty it is living. The newly-implemented Caesar Act sanctions against Syria can overshadow the Iraqi economy. Earlier, the Al-Akhbar newspaper of Lebanon reported that the Congress-imposed Caesar Act possibly involves Iraq, which has three border crossings with Syria, in a food war. The act targets the Axis of Resistance countries whose links are aimed against by the US.
Al-Akhbar held that economy will take the biggest damage from the embargo and the sanctions target the Iraqi-Syrian trade because no boundaries are drawn for the act and they consider any trade with the Syrian government support to Damascus. Through the act, the US will possibly blackmail the Iraqis and force them to make concessions. Washington would want Iraq to take stances frustrating to Iran in return for waivers for trade with Syria.
To prevent al-Kadhimiís visit from looking like a failure, the Americans will likely promise support to Iraq and the expansion of political, economic, military, security, and health cooperation using their media arms inside and outside Iraq.