US announces strategic dialogue with Iraq

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Tuesday that Washington had proposed a strategic dialogue with the Iraqi government, and it will be held in June.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Tuesday that Washington had proposed a strategic dialogue with the Iraqi government, and it will be held in June.

The dialogue will cover “all strategic issues between our two countries,” Pompeo explained, “including the future presence of the United States forces” in Iraq “and how best to support an independent and sovereign Iraq.”

David Hale, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the number three position in the State Department, will lead the US side.

Hale has extensive experience in the Middle East, having served as ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan. He was also Special Envoy for Middle East Peace during the Obama administration.

Plans for the diplomatic exchange were first revealed on Sunday by Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Ali al-Hakim, in a tweet.

Hakim announced that the Foreign Ministry had received a letter from the State Department “suggesting procedures for negotiations based on the concepts in the Strategic Framework agreement.”

That agreement was concluded between the US and Iraq in late 2008, as the Bush administration, under which the Iraq war was launched, was drawing to an end. That document laid out the basic principles for a “long-term relationship of friendship and cooperation.”

Iraq’s Foreign Minister explained that the dialogue would include a “comprehensive review of the future of relations in the economic and cultural fields,” as well as “trade exchanges and bilateral and regional security.”

“We welcome this initiative,” Hakim concluded, and we “will set an appropriate date.”

Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Pompeo noted two new, very serious challenges that Iraq now faces: “the global COVID-19 pandemic” and “plummeting oil revenues” that threaten Iraq with “economic collapse.”

So “it’s important that our two governments work together to stop any reversal of the gains we’ve made in our efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the country,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo Sides with Protestors in Rejecting Sectarian Model

Pompeo also expressed his support for a new Iraqi government that would reject sectarianism. Since November, when Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation in response to the popular protests that have rocked the country, Iraq has been without a permanent government.

The first candidate chosen to replace Abdul Mahdi, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, was seen as a sectarian Shia, closely aligned with Iran. Both Kurds and Sunni Arabs opposed him, and he failed to win parliamentary approval for his government.

Read More: Masoud Barzani hails unity of Kurdistan Region and Iraq, following Allawi’s withdrawal as prime minister-designate

Subsequently, Adnan al-Zurfi, a former governor of Najaf province and another Shia, but seen as less sectarian, was nominated for the position. While the US has supported him, Tehran has opposed him.

Last week, the new commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, visited Baghdad. Ghaani became head of the Quds Force following the US assassination of Qasim Soleimani in January.

Ghaani sought to mobilize support among Iraq’s Shia leaders to oppose Zurfi’s nomination. However, his trip to Baghdad appears to have backfired, as Al-Monitor reported.

He “failed to unify the Shia factions,” Al-Monitor said, noting that Ghaani lacked Soleimani’s long-standing and broad ties to key individuals in Iraq. Indeed, unlike Soleimani, Ghaani does not even speak Arabic. Leading Iraqi figures, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, refused to meet him, as did Muqtada al-Sadr, who heads the largest coalition in Iraq’s parliament.

Responding to reporters’ questions, Pompeo expressed his sympathy with those Iraqis who have been protesting the political system that has emerged 17 years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Pompeo expressed his hope that the Iraqi political process would decide on a leader prepared to undertake the reforms necessary for a “sovereign, independent Iraq” and “move away from the old sectarian model that ended up with terror and corruption.”

“That’s the gold standard,” he said, and “what, frankly, the Iraqi people need.”

“When you talk about who will decide who the next leader is,” Pompeo continued, “our mission is to make sure that that next leader is reflected” in what “the people who were protesting before the [coronavirus] broke out” were demanding—“a different political path forward.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany