Al-Kadhimi at The White House..Stuck between Trump's unpredictability and Iraq’s tangled files
Shafaq News / with the entrance of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, the Iraqi Prime Minister to the oval office of the White House to be received by the American president, Donald Trump on August 20th, 2020; the Iraqi-U.S. relations will enter a new phase of seriousness and anticipation -especially with the visit coming only three weeks before the American elections on November 3rd, in which Trump’s departure or his stay in power for four more years will be determined.
Several files were discussed between the U.S. and Iraqi sides in June, and understanding on their broad outlines was shared. The discussion of many issues is expected to be completed in Washington meetings, perhaps the most important of which is the future of the U.S. military presence in Iraq -which the U.S. administration has issued contradictory statements about.
The fate of U.S. forces in Iraq has taken a new turn after the assassination of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis near Baghdad airport in early 2020, followed by a decision by Iran backed blocs in the Iraqi parliament to push the government of Baghdad to end the U.S. military presence.
The White House officially announced regarding Al-Kadhimi’s visit, "It comes at a crucial time for both the United States and Iraq as we continue to cooperate to ensure the permanent defeat of ISIS and to meet the challenges of the COVİD-19 epidemic. The United States and Iraq are close partners and we will consider expanding our relations across a range of areas, including security, energy, health care, and economic cooperation".
The Media Office of The Iraqi Prime Minister said in a statement, “Al-Kadhimi would discuss relations between the two countries, issues of common concern, and cooperation in the fields of security, energy, health, economy, and investment, as well as the COVİD-19 pandemic”.
Iraqis will see whether Al-Kadhimi would abide by his pledges with the start of the strategic dialogue in June when he said he would "rely on the opinion of the religious reference, parliament, and Iraq’s need. We will focus on Iraqi sovereignty in the dialogue.. We want Iraq to be a theatre of peace, not an arena of conflict between external forces".
The relationship between Baghdad and Washington -politically, militarily, and economically- has been recast in the "Strategic Framework" agreement; which since 2008 paved the way for the nearly complete departure of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 –in the era of the former president Barack Obama. But the emergence of ISIS in 2014 prompted Baghdad to call for a new U.S. intervention, with some 15,000 troops at certain stages, with other estimates of 30,000 soldiers.
But with the announcement of ISIS’s defeat -despite its continuing threat, the number of U.S. troops has now dropped to about 5,000 -deployed at several military bases near Baghdad and Al-Anbar. Al-Kadhimi finds himself stuck between the opponents of the American presence and the overlapping and old relations with the Americans that he cannot escape.
Adding to the confusion of the Iraqi position, the U.S. statements issued after the end of the strategic dialogue two months ago suggested that a new military agreement will not be signed with Baghdad at this stage and that it will be up to the White House in the next presidential term, whether Trump remains president or Democrat Joe Biden comes to succeed him.
Al-Kadhimi's meeting with Trump will not be just a formal meeting, even if the final decision on the fate of the U.S. military presence is currently off the table for signature; as his return from Washington to Baghdad without a winning political card will make him vulnerable to criticism from parties and parliamentary blocs close to Tehran that are now considered to be waiting for the government's commitment to the decisions of parliament, and it has been about eight months since parliament asked to work on scheduling and ending the U.S. military presence.
Al-Kadhimi is aware of this fact and therefore he recently commissioned a specialized committee to study the strategic agreement with Washington -as Badr Al-Ziyadi, member of the parliamentary security and defense committee told Shafaq News agency; whose task will be to study the weaknesses and strengths of the agreement.
Al-Ziyadi added, "The committee will present its report to the government after studying the points of the agreement and strategic dialogue. The parliamentary security and defense committee and the parliament are closely monitoring the scenes of the strategic dialogue between Baghdad and Washington".
After that video dialogue, a joint statement distributed by the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in the text regarding the security partnership, "The two countries acknowledged that in light of the outstanding progress on eliminating the threat of ISIS, the United States of America will continue, in the coming months, to reduce the number of its troops in Iraq, as well as agree with the Iraqi government on the status of the remaining forces; as well as to develop a normal security relationship based on mutual benefits. The United States also confirmed that it is not seeking to establish permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq, as agreed in advance in the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement, which stipulates that security cooperation is based on mutual agreements. The Government of Iraq has committed itself to protect the military forces of the international coalition and the Iraqi facilities that host them under international law and the relevant arrangements regarding the presence of those forces and in the form to be agreed between the two countries".
Therefore, it is only normal for Al-Kadhimi to ask Washington about the plans for redeployment and troop reduction; just as the Americans will ask Al-Kadhimi about the continuation of the attacks on U.S. forces positions and how he intends to deal with them, especially since they are on the rise ahead of Al-Kadimi’s visit.
The Iraqi Prime Minister has shown a lot of commitment to his political promises after he took office in May, including issues that Americans -and protesters in the street- have urged him to abide by, including the call for early parliamentary elections, which have already been set in June 2021.
Al-Kadhimi also ordered to confront the launchers of missiles predominated at bases and buildings used by the Americans -including the Green Zone, which represented by the arrest of a cell belonging to the Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah. He also moved on in another dossier that Americans -and protesters- rely on; which is the corruption that has exhausted Iraqi resources and put the country in a state of financial deficit.
Al-Kadhimi's most prominent political movement, ahead of his meeting with Trump, is his decision to undertake a regional tour that includes Saudi Arabia and then Iran. His visit to Riyadh was indeed postponed due to the health condition that afflicted King Salman bin Abdulaziz suddenly, which forced him to go to Tehran first, but the political message was clear whether his decision to go to the Saudi capital first or by the statements he made more than once about the need for Iraq not to be an arena of regional or international conflict, which is an explicit reference to Iran and the United States.. As well as to Turkey with its continuous military operations in Kurdistan.
However, the security and military aspects will not be alone in the agenda of Al-Kadhimi-Trump summit, as the economic file will be present strongly, especially with the economic crisis that Iraq is going through due to the COVİD-19 pandemic and the stumbling oil production -on which Iraq depends with more than 90%.
In this regard, Gabriel Sawma, member of the Advisory Council of President Donald Trump, revealed the important issues to be discussed by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the White House and summed them by the Iranian intervention, the targeting of the U.S. embassy, and the protests in Iraq.
"The main task of Al-Kadhimi's visit to Washington is to strengthen bilateral relations and chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in various fields including security, economy, energy, health care, confronting the COVİD-19 pandemic, as well as the protest movement in Iraq”, Sawma said, adding “the meeting will also discuss Iran’s intervention as it is pushing to remove the American troops from Iraq, as well as the cases of kidnapping and assassinations in Iraq; most notably the assassination of the security expert Hisham al-Hashimi".
Sawma continued, "The meeting will discuss the decline in oil prices and their impact on the Iraqi economy, especially since the Iraqi government is at a critical stage and cannot pay employees' salaries continuously".
"Trump will discuss with Al-Kadhimi the responsibility of the security of the U.S. embassy after the building was hit by dozens of missiles late last year and recently", he said, adding that "the Iraqi army is unable to protect the embassy building, its staff, and the military bases in the country".
Gabriel Sawma clarified," U.S. has had to use the MIM-104 Patriot system to protect the embassy building and staff from terrorist attacks”, stressing that, “Washington respects the Iraqi sovereignty and constitution, and does not need its oil".
He also pointed out that, "The withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Iraqi territory is out of the question, but reducing the numbers will be per the agreements and joint action between the Iraqi and U.S. governments".
A few days prior to the date of the meeting between the two men, and the concerns of Al-Kadhimi and his files are clear despite its difficulty, but the anticipation must be the master of the situation here. Trump is an unpredictable man, and the Iraqi prime minister will return victorious from Washington if he succeeds in establishing the concept that his country will never be an arena of conflict again.