Biden, Austin Hold Talks with Sudani: Improving Erbil, Baghdad Ties; Reopening Pipeline; Defending Kurdistan Region

Biden and Sudani affirmed the importance of improved ties between Baghdad and Erbil, while Austin and Sudani discussed efforts to modernize the ISF, including Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
The photo shows the meeting between Iraqi PM al-Sudani and the accompanying delegation with the US president Joe Biden in the White House, Washington DC, April 15, 2024. (Photo: KRG)
The photo shows the meeting between Iraqi PM al-Sudani and the accompanying delegation with the US president Joe Biden in the White House, Washington DC, April 15, 2024. (Photo: KRG)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Monday marked the first visit to Washington of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, as well as his first meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and his first meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Those two meetings produced important news, related to the relationship between Erbil and Baghdad, as well as the defense of the Kurdistan Region. 

Biden and Sudani affirmed the importance of improving ties between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG.)

Biden also pressed Sudani on reopening the pipeline from the Kurdistan Region to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It has been shut down for over a year, resulting in over $7 billion in lost revenues.

The KRG is represented in Sudani’s delegation by Safeen Dizayee, head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations.

The meeting between Austin and Sudani revealed that Iraq is slated to make a significant purchase of U.S. military equipment, including counter-drone systems and helicopters.

It also made clear that U.S. forces are not leaving Iraq. Rather, the security relationship will continue, but shift from one based on the Defeat-ISIS Coalition to one based on bilateral tU.S.-Iraqi ties.

Meeting With Biden: Reopening Pipeline

“President Biden and Prime Minister Sudani discussed their shared view that the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) is integral to Iraq’s overall prosperity and stability,” according to a joint U.S.-Iraqi statement issued after their meeting.

They also “affirmed the importance of ensuring Iraqi oil can reach international markets and expressed their desire to reopen the Iraq-Turkiye Pipeline [ITP].”

The Association of the Petroleum Industry of Kurdistan (APIKUR) issued a statement subsequently expressing its appreciation of their efforts and affirming that it “remains ready to immediately continue discussions with Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government officials to restore exports through the ITP, while preserving sanctity of current fiscal terms, and ensuring surety of past and future oil payments through formal written agreements.”

“The $10 billion in investments made by APIKUR member companies in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region oil  and gas sector helps achieve Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani’s economic and energy goals expressed during his meeting with President Biden,” Myles Caggins, APIKUR spokesman, explained. 

And he affirmed, “APIKUR member companies are intensely focused on cooperating with Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government officials to resume oil exports through the Iraq-Türkiye pipeline as soon as possible.” 

In other matters related to Erbil-Baghdad relations, Biden “commended” the efforts of Sudani and the KRG “to reach durable agreements that resolve longstanding challenges, including the recent arrangement to pay two months of KRG civil servant salaries, and encouraged continued progress,” according to the joint Iraqi-American statement, while Biden “also affirmed U.S. support for strengthening democracy in Iraq, including free, fair, and transparent regional elections in the IKR.”

Safeen Dizayee, himself tweeted, “Accompanied Iraqi Prime Minister @mohamedshia

 in a meeting with the US President @JoeBiden.” 

“Discussed future economic, military and energy ties between USA-Iraq, plus other pressing matters, stressing the crucial need for regional stability,” he added.

Meeting with Austin: Iraqi Purchase of U.S. Military Equipment, Continued Security Ties 

Originally, the intent of the U.S. and Iraq had been to focus on economic issues in order to broaden the relationship between the two countries. However, Iran’s massive assault on Israel on Saturday seems to have reinforced the significance of defense ties.

Thus, they are not a past matter. Notably, the Iranian missiles and drones flew over at least two countries: Iraq and Jordan–and many were downed before they could reach their targets in Israel. 

One of those weapons, a ballistic missile, “was taken down in the vicinity of Erbil,” Pentagon Press Secretary, Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, told journalists on Monday, in response to a question from Kurdistan 24.

Drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), are emerging as a significant new weapon of war. Russia has been using Iranian attack drones in its war with Ukraine, and Ukraine is using them as well.

Iran has also used its drones to attack targets in the Kurdistan Region, while its proxies have used such drones to target U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. 

Thus, it is, perhaps, little surprise that Iraq’s Defense Minister has asked to purchase U.S. counter-drone systems. He has also asked to buy U.S. helicopters.

The U.S.-Iraq Higher Military Commission (HMC) convened for the first time in Baghdad on Saturday. Speaking on Monday, Secretary Austin, addressing Sudani, standing at his side, said, “Your Minister of Defense signed a letter of request for the pricing and availability of counter-UAS systems from the United States.”

He also asked to purchase U.S. helicopters, and, as Sudani explained, a Memorandum of Understanding to that effect was signed on Monday between the U.S. and Iraq.

Washington has worked out with Baghdad a new financing mechanism, called CAPS (Credit Assured Payment Schedule.) It allows Iraq to make payments over time, rather than all at once. Iraq will become the first country to use CAPS to buy U.S. military equipment.

As Austin and Sudani affirmed in a joint statement issued after their meeting, “Addressing the strategic nature of the U.S.-Iraq bilateral defense relationship and Iraq's role as leader in ensuring regional security,” they “discussed efforts to modernize the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], including Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and build their capabilities.”

The two leaders “look forward to Iraq and the United States convening strategic discussions on the future of the U.S.-Iraq security relationship—pursuant to the 2008 U.S.-Iraqi Strategic Framework Agreement—at the second Joint Security Cooperation Dialogue later this year,” their statement continued. 

And it concluded, “Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to an orderly transition to enduring bilateral security partnerships between Iraq and the United States and other countries of the [anti-ISIS] Coalition in accordance with the Iraqi constitution and the Strategic Framework Agreement.”