Senior State Department official to visit Erbil
WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Barbara Leaf, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, will visit Erbil after the conclusion of her trip to Baghdad, the State Department announced late on Sunday.
Leaf is on a tour of the Middle East that began in Tunisia, after which she visited Israel and the West Bank, before traveling to Jordan and then Baghdad, where she arrived on Sunday and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. She will proceed onto Erbil, before leaving the country on Sep. 9.
Leaf Visit: US Policy Shifting, after Strong Criticism
Leaf’s visit to Iraq follows a phone conversation between US President Joe Biden and Kadhimi last week, in which Biden stressed his strong support for Kadhimi and for a “sovereign and independent Iraq.”
The discussion between the two leaders followed on the call of Muqtada al-Sadr on his followers to withdraw from Baghdad’s Green Zone and to stop fighting.
Read More: Biden expresses support for Kadhimi in phone call
Biden also “praised the performance of the Iraqi Security Forces,” in his discussion with Kadhimi, while extending “condolences to the families of those killed in the recent fighting.”
Such words, coming from the US president, for Iraq’s Prime Minister would, ordinarily, be uneventful. But they follow a prolonged period in which the Biden administration neglected Iraq, while it pursued, as a much higher priority, the renewal of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.
That worked to the advantage of Tehran and the disadvantage of US allies in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region, and it drew criticism from Congressmen and analysts alike.
Read More: Rep. McCaul urges administration to support KRG in disputes with Baghdad—3rd Congressional letter in a week!
Indeed, last week, one such analyst, David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in the Trump administration, complained to Kurdistan 24 about the US neglect of the single-most important political issue in Baghdad: establishing a new government, following the Oct. 2021 elections.
“I just don’t believe that the United States over the past nine, ten months of [Iraqi] government formation has really been involved at the highest of levels,” Schenker said, as he called on the administration to do more to help get an Iraqi government in place.
Read More: David Schenker: Biden administration needs to be actively involved in Iraq
Similarly, Amb. James Jeffrey, formerly US ambassador to Iraq and Turkey and now head of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, told Kurdistan 24, “We, the United States, have not been active enough in working with our friends and national forces in Iraq to push back on the Iranian seizure of the constitutional system, which we have seen since the elections last year.”
Leaf is concluding her extended trip to the Middle East “with a visit to Baghdad and Erbil from September 4-9, where she will meet with Iraqi government officials, civil society members, entrepreneurs, journalists and members of parliament,” the State Department announcement said.
The US has provided no read-out on Leaf’s meeting with Kadhimi, but we can assume that she followed up on the issues that were discussed between Biden and Kadhimi just four days before.
Kadhimi publicly welcomed the visit. He tweeted that in speaking with the US envoy, he “stressed the importance of continuing cooperation in the file of combating terrorism and developing and consolidating bilateral relations in various economic, educational and cultural fields.