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Iraqi speaker visits Washington to drum up investment

Iraq’s parliament speaker is in the American capital to smooth frayed ties and drum up investments and reconstruction support. Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi has met with political leaders and members of the administration, including US Vice President Mike Pence.

Halbousi and Pence discussed “encouraging American businesses to invest in Iraq,” read a statement from the White House after their meeting on Thursday.

The country needs an estimated $88 billion to rebuild areas destroyed or damaged in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) and improve public services. At a donor’s conference a year ago in Kuwait, they secured pledges of just $30 billion.

Meeting with US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on Wednesday, Halbousi asserted that now is the best time for investment “for the stability of Iraq, which will contribute to the stability of the region,” according to a statement from the speaker’s office.

Selling Iraq as an attractive investment is not an easy task. The country ranks among the most corrupt in the world and frequently captures world headlines because of cycles of violence. The current government in Baghdad, however, is determined to make Iraq a revitalized hub in the Middle East.

Iraq is also trying to avoid becoming a battleground for disputes between the US and Iran. Iraqi parties with ties to Iran had threatened to present a bill to parliament that would kick American troops out of the country, though such a bill is not currently on the legislature’s agenda.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Baghdad and Erbil in January to make amends after President Donald Trump caused offense when he dropped in on US troops in Iraq, but failed to meet with any Iraqi leaders and then later said he wanted those American soldiers to “watch Iran,” which Washington has labeled the “leading state sponsor of terror.”

There are some 5,200 US forces currently in Iraq where they are training and supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the war against ISIS.

Halbousi and Pence “discussed the need for a continued security partnership in Iraq to counter terrorism and establish security across the country,” the White House statement read.

Halbousi also met with Pompeo, discussing their “strategic partnership” and ongoing security coordination, according to a statement from the speaker’s office.

He also raised the issue of international support for reconstruction of Iraq with Pompeo. ‏

Halbousi has also met with Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives. Source