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US to pressure Gulf allies to aid Iraq after progress in strategic dialogue

Iraq’s lead negotiator in the ongoing strategic dialogue with the United States said Thursday that American officials “showed willingness” to pressure its allies in the Gulf region to support Iraq to survive the ongoing crisis.

“The US will help Iraq in international organizations and platforms by pressuring its allies in the region and the Gulf to help Iraq,” Abdul-Karim Hashim, senior deputy Iraqi foreign minister told state media outlet INA on Thursday.

The talks are the first of their kind in more than a decade, and aim to put all bilateral issues on the table, including the Iraqi economy and the withdrawal of US troops.

Currently facing a severe economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of global oil prices and demand, the current Iraqi government decided last week to scrap plans to hash out its 2020 budgets and will instead focus on formulating a budget for 2021, due to the high deficit in the budget due to crashing oil revenues.

Hashim also revealed that the dialogue resulted in agreement to withdraw US troops from Iraq, but the plan must first be discussed by Iraqi and US military officials to debate whether US troops are still needed inside the country to help combat remnants of the Islamic State (ISIS).

A joint statement published by both countries early Friday said that the outcome of the talks is a US-commitment to continue withdrawing troops from the country “in the near future.”

US forces have withdrawn from several Iraqi bases in recent months, which they say is part of a general repositioning in response to successes in the campaign to defeat ISIS and to protect personnel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the space of a month, the US-led coalition handed over control of six military bases to the ISF, including Abu Ghraib near Baghdad, K1 in Kirkuk, al-Qaim near the Syrian border, Qayyarah in western Iraq, al-Sqoor in Mosul, and al-Taqaddum in Anbar.

Many Shiite political and armed parties have long demanded the expulsion of US troops from Iraq. However, they were not satisfied with the Iraqi negotiating committee that led by Hashim, accusing the committee for being too heavily pro-American.

“The majority of the Iraqi committee in the US-Iraq strategic dialogue that negotiated with the US hold American citizenship, so they cannot negotiate for the sake of Iraq,” Qais al-Khazaali, secretary general of the Iran-backed Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq Shiite militia claimed in a speech on Saturday.

Hashim, the lead negotiator for Iraq, told al-Sharqiya tv in a televised interview on Monday that he has not met with any Iranian officials prior to the strategic dialogue, and that he has met the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad only once.

“I have not met Iranian ambassador at all, but I met him only once unfortunately. However I have met the US ambassador to Baghdad more than once, and I have met US embassy staff many times,” Hashim said.

The second round of the US-Iraq strategic dialogue is set to take place at a meeting in Washington next month.

Washington and Baghdad have had a rocky relationship in recent years, made worse by mounting tensions between the US and Iran.

Iraqi military bases hosting US troops have come under repeated rocket attacks in recent months. US officials suspect the attacks were launched by pro-Iran militias.

A deadly rocket attack on the K-1 base in Kirkuk last December led to an escalation in US-Iran hostilities, culminating in the US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad on January 3.

Tehran retaliated on January 8 with a barrage of missiles targeting Iraqi bases hosting US troops.

In response to the assassinations on Iraqi soil, pro-Iran factions in the Iraqi parliament held a non-binding vote to expel foreign forces from the country.

The US has deployed Patriot air defense batteries to Ain al-Assad military base in Anbar province, and another to Erbil.

Despite the US drawdown, Washington appears to remain committed to tackling pro-Iran forces in Iraq. Source