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Iraq, the US and the difficult dialogue

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visits Kirkuk to follow operations against Daesh terror group, on 2 June 2020 in Kirkuk, Iraq. [Prime Ministry of Iraq / Handout - Anadolu Agency]
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visits Kirkuk to follow operations against Daesh terror group, on 2 June 2020 in Kirkuk, Iraq. [Prime Ministry of Iraq / Handout - Anadolu Agency]

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, which was formed only a few weeks ago — and was only completed on Saturday after voting on the seven remaining ministerial portfolios that were vacant — finds itself facing a challenge different to the economic, political and health adversities that it usually encounters. This new challenge is represented in the Iraqi-US strategic dialogue, scheduled for mid-June. The results of this dialogue will have repercussions that may not stop at the geography of Iraq, but could spread to the region and its surroundings.

Al-Kadhimi’s government does not seem able to reach the date of the scheduled meeting with a unified Iraqi stance, with regards to what it wants from the US, far from the sharp contrasts in the positions of the political process partners in Iraq (Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, according to the common classification), regarding the US presence. This government is still trying to play the game of holding the stick in the middle between the US at one end, and its allies and enemies in Iraq and abroad, at the other. This is perhaps one of the most significant points that might lead to weakening the Iraqi side in negotiations, as it will not go with a unified vision, but instead, it failed to form a general opinion about what Iraq hopes to achieve from the dialogue.

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To learn more about the rugged Iraqi road during the forthcoming strategic dialogue with the US, we must cite the positions presented in the past few days. Iran, one of the main sponsors of the political process in Iraq along with the US, sent the energy minister to Baghdad as a head of a delegation that also included Esmail Ghaani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force in the Revolutionary Guard. It signed a new energy agreement with Baghdad for two years, after this agreement had been renewed annually in the past. Iran also received $400 million in dues from Iraq, which is half of the amount owed to Iran to export energy to Iraq — an agreement that comes days after the visit of Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi to Saudi Arabia. It has been said that it opened the door for Iraq to cooperate in the field of importing energy from Saudi Arabia, as an alternative to Iran.

 Soldiers from the US-led coalition forces are seen at the Al-Qaim Military Base in Iraq’s Anbar province, west of Baghdad, on 19 March 2020. The US-led coalition forces handover the  Al-Qaim Military Base to the Iraqi Army. [Murtadha Al-Sudani - Anadolu Agency]

Soldiers from the US-led coalition forces are seen at the Al-Qaim Military Base in Iraq’s Anbar province, west of Baghdad, on 19 March 2020. The US-led coalition forces handover the Al-Qaim Military Base to the Iraqi Army. [Murtadha Al-Sudani – Anadolu Agency]

Al-Kadhimi’s government was completed after appointing seven ministers, among them the Kurdish minister who was the subject of controversy, Fuad Hussein, who was tasked with the foreign portfolio. This means that he will be the Kurdish representative in the strategic Iraqi-US dialogue. Moreover, the leader of the Badr Organisation and deputy head of the Popular Mobilisation Force, Hadi Al-Amiri, resigned from parliament amid speculation that his resignation is a prelude to appointing him to a government position, in order to attend the Iraqi-US dialogue, given his close ties with Iran. In other words, he will act as Iran’s representative in this dialogue.

Amid all of this, it does not seem that the Sunni Arabs have anyone so far who could represent them in this dialogue. This has prompted Sunni representatives to speak out loud about the importance of having a presence, to help secure an achievement for themselves.

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The US has named its delegation for this dialogue, but it is not yet clear who will represent Iraq. This appears to be among the obstacles that will cause the early fall of Al-Kadhimi’s government, if it fails to leave this dialogue with the satisfaction of the parties supporting the formation of the government, specifically the axis close to Iran. This axis is apprehensive, given its fear that an agreement will be reached to integrate the armed militias within the security and armed forces system, as a US condition for any support for the current or future government. This is because the US will pressure Al-Kadhimi’s government to be stricter in its dealings with the Iranian infiltration of Iraq, by reining in armed militias and making Iraqi decisions independent from Iranian influence, as a condition for its military, economic and international support. However, if Al-Kadhimi and his negotiating team choose to insist on withdrawing the US forces completely from Iraq — as the armed and political factions in Iraq called for, and as Iran wishes — then the US will end the exception granted to Iraq to import energy from Iran, and it will launch an economic war that Iraq does not seem capable of bearing the consequences. It is worth noting that this position — rejecting the US presence — is a position expressed not only by the Kurdish and Sunni forces, but also by Shia forces that have begun to grow tired of Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs, its monopoly over decisions and its continuous attempts to keep Iraq away from its surroundings. Al-Kadhimi does not have a magic wand he can wave to entangle himself from the dilemma of the upcoming dialogue, as he is in power as a result of consensus amongst the Shia forces, which viewed him as a better option than his predecessor Adnan Al-Zurfi, who rejected the idea of ​​a government nominated by the parties. Meanwhile, Al-Kadhimi accepted the names dictated by these parties, nominated to run ministries according to the prevailing rule of quotas.

The US wants to support its influence in Iraq, and in return, Iran wants to protect the influence and interests it has achieved. Meanwhile, the Iraqis will remain absent amongst them in a dialogue that is intended to draw the future not only of Iraq, but of the entire region, in the coming years.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed 9 June 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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