The third round of US-Iraqi talks was held, due to the pandemic, in video-conference following the past trend, in the current year’s April. These talks, which are based on the 2008 Strategic Agreement between the two countries called the Amity and Cooperation Agreement, had at first a challenging process ahead so that its start in last year’s April was influenced by the violations of the Iraqi sovereignty and security in the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani and Abu-Mahdi Muhandis and their colleagues, on one side, and the Iraqi parliament , by the majority of 171 Iraqi MPs, coupled with widespread popular demands, signing into law a bill that required the foreign forces, especially the US forces to exit from Iraq. The negotiations resulted in an agreement for the reduction of US forces over a three-year period, as well as the US forces evacuating the Taji base and handing it over to the Iraqi government.
The negotiations found new directions with Mustafa Al-Kadhimi being elected as Iraq’s prime minister. Kadhimi tried in his first trip to America to direct the strategic negotiations towards making bilateral opportunities in the path of persistence and change. Therefore, in Baghdad and Washington’s joint statement, both sides stressed strategic partnership between the two countries based on mutual interest in realizing security and prosperity. In the US point of view, redefinition of the 2008 Strategic Agreement is partial exit of forces and staying the remainder in the training, and not operational, frameworks, and interest in joint missions under the Nato. In this between, the US interest in playing a regional role has to be added to the said policy, a policy that makes Iraq’s liberation from the US influence harder.
Also the other part of the US-Iraqi perspective of relations must be seen in the way of organizing the economic, relations, and US investment in Iraq especially in the energy sector. This presence goes back to the US companies activity in the last two decades. Also in the long term, they have set their own plans for Iraq, and within this framework, the Iraqis seek to give a more principled form to their economic ties with the US. Thus, the third round of talks was held in a wholly changed atmosphere. With the democrats entering the White House and with Biden’s view during his vice presidency based on settling the Iraq issue by disintegrating it, the Iraqi government’s worries have increased for pursuing the 2008 Strategic Agreement, especially strengthening the 2014 oil agreement between the central Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdistan region which was revised during the Trump era. Based on this, the three factors lying ahead of Kadhimi’s government, that is, the change in the White House, early elections in October 10, 2021, and the need for gaining economic and political advantages , parallel with Pope’s trip to Iraq, have necessitated getting the most opportunities in strengthening ties with the US.
Yet Kadhimi, compared to other Arab world leaders, has had a better chance that Biden had his first Arab contact with him. During this phone conversation that was held in March 2021, they stressed making efforts to hold the third round of strategic talks. Praising the US role in strengthening security and stability in Iraq and guaranteeing the security of foreign diplomatic delegations and Iraq’s need for health and economic help during the corona period were among the subjects stressed by kadhimi to the new US president.
The most important pivots of the joint statement issued after the third round of talks are as follows:
- The American side fully respects Iraq’s sovereignty over the entire Iraqi lands and Iraq’s decisions for consolidating its land sovereignty, as well as the enactments of the Iraqi executive and legislature.
- The American side praised and supported the Iraqi government’s steps for issuing airport visas for increasing foreign investment and implementing economic reforms as well as strengthening the private sector.
- The American side stressed its support for the Iraqi government efforts to secure cheap electric energy and diversify its sources by strengthening the electric grid connections to the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council member states and Jordan.
- Both sides stressed cooperation on clean energies, full utilization of gas and improvement of the environment.
- The US side praised the Iraqi government’s steps for holding early elections and securing the security of civil activists and refugees.
- Both sides agreed to increase the maximum deadline of visa for their diplomatic officials to two years and facilitate their trips.
- In countering terrorism, considering the increased security capabilities of Iraq, both countries agreed that the US and coalition forces role be changed to a training and advisory one and there be a timetable for pullout of these forces after negotiations with the technical boards.
- It was agreed the bases that house the US forces are Iraqi bases and these forces are in these bases simply to help the Iraqi army in countering Isis terrorism in Iraq.
- The two sides stressed increasing cooperation in the Iraqi education, and higher education and in preserving the Iraqi culture and legacy as well as its diverse religious tapestry, holding virtual exhibitions of cultural and historical heritage and returning the Iraqi cultural properties that have been transferred to the US.
There is no doubt the US approach of non-presence in Afghanistan is by far different than presence in Iraq, due to the distinctions in the area of the US interests, and despite the US troops presence in Iraq being reduced to half, according to the statements of the commander of SENTCOM the US has no intention of full pullout from Iraq. Additionally, the US may try to reform its presence in the form of Nato presence. With the assumption that the US will impose its will on the Iraqi government, the said trend will lead to the Iraqi government been weakened in the elections. Therefore, it has to be said that today’s Iraq is more than ever in need of setting and balancing regional and international relations for institutionalizing democracy in Iraq.
Mojtaba Ferdowsi Pour
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)