US strategic dialogue 're-commits' security and economic partnership with Iraq

US strategic dialogue 're-commits' security and economic partnership with Iraq
US strategic dialogue 're-commits' security and economic partnership with Iraq

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Talks between the US and Iraq kicked off on Thursday to restore their relations following months of heightened tensions between Baghdad's two main allies, Washington and Tehran.

The first session, held virtually due to coronavirus restrictions, put in place the political nature of their ties.

"We made it clear that we will continue to assist the Iraqi government not only at the security level but also in implementing the required reforms," David Schenker, the State Department’s top Middle East official, said after the talks concluded.

Washington will support Baghdad through "international financial institutions to help it meet the challenge of Covid-19 and declining oil revenues," he said.

The dialogue, which is expected to carry on for several months, will discuss the future of US military presence in Iraq, while Baghdad will focus the negotiations on the economic crisis it currently faces.

"What we want is a strong bilateral security arrangement with Iraq that includes training, management of advanced military systems and joint exercises," he said.

The Iraqi government renewed its commitment to protect US and international troops during the talks, Mr Schenker told reporters.

Tensions heightened between the US and Iran after an American drone strike killed the Iranian military leader Qassem Suleimani in January near Baghdad International Airport.

It resulted in a spate of Iran-backed attacks on American troops stationed in Iraq. The threat of attacks led US forces to pull out of three Iraqi bases in March.

Following the attack Iraqi members of parliament passed a non-binding resolution in January to oust foreign forces from the country.

Mr Schenker said that Iranian-backed Iraqi militias are working against Washington. "Iran is promoting sectarian division, which fuels extremism and terrorism."

The US delegation was led by the under secretary of state David Hale.

Abdul Karim Hashim, the deputy minister for foreign affairs, led the Iraqi delegation, who outlined the country's economic troubles.

Prior to the talks Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi said the dialogue’s success will depend on “the opinion of the Marjaiya (the top religious Shiite authority), parliament and Iraq’s urgent needs.”

“The aim of my government is to achieve fair elections, ensure the economy does not collapse and to preserve Iraq’s integrity,” he said.

"We do not want Iraq to be a ground for conflict,” Mr Al Kadhimi said.

The relationship between Baghdad and Washington, and the presence of US forces in the country, is based on a strategic framework agreement signed in 2008.

The agreement called for close defence co-operation to deter threats to Iraqi “sovereignty, security and territorial integrity".

Militia leader, Qais Al Khazali, said on Thursday that US forces who choose to remain in Iraq should not have immunity.

His statement portrayed a calmer tone in comparison to his usual remarks that US troops should leave Iraq.

The US State Department said earlier this year that it has designated Mr Al Khazali and his brother Laith Al Khazali as specially designated global terrorists.

Mr Al Khazali is the head of Asaib Ahl Al Haq, which the US designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) in January.

He has advocated that Iraq should be free of foreign influence.

But Washington says his militia group is a proxy for Iran.

Updated: June 12, 2020 01:52 AM

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