Issue of Iran-backed militias to top agenda of Kadhimi’s US visit

Reducing Baghdad’s dependence on Iran-supplied electricity and gas is expected to be a crucial item in Iraqi-Us talks next month.
Thursday 30/07/2020
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi (L) arriving in Kirkuk, for an official visit, last month. (REUTERS)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi (L) arriving in Kirkuk, for an official visit, last month. (REUTERS)

BAGHDAD--Well-informed political sources in Baghdad told The Arab Weekly that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi will be visiting the United States next month, where he will meet President Donald Trump and a number of senior American officials.

This visit was scheduled for this month, but the COVID-19 pandemic conditions caused it to be postponed.

Diplomatic sources said that on top of Kadhimi’s meeting agenda with US officials will be the issue of Iraqi armed groups affiliated with Iran and whose involvement in attacks on sites inside Iraq hosting American and international coalition forces was confirmed.

Sources stressed that determining the exact date of Kadhimi’s visit to Washington depends on the latter’s commitment to helping the Iraqi government impose the rule of law and confront the rogue militias.

During the first round of the strategic dialogue between the two countries last month, Iraq pledged to provide the necessary protection for the international coalition and US forces, operating inside the country at Baghdad’s wish.

Since the announcement of that pledge last month, Iraqi groups affiliated with Iran have intensified their missile attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad and a number of Iraqi military camps hosting American forces.

The escalation prompted the United States to install a sophisticated defence system in its embassy in Baghdad, to repel repeated Katyusha attacks.

Observers considered this step as an indication of the depth of coordination between Baghdad and Washington and a sign of the absence of reservations on the part of Iraq about cooperating militarily with the United States. Iran’s allies saw it however as a sign of Kadhimi’s weakness and accused him of granting American forces the right to use Iraqi land and airspace as they pleased.

In the past few weeks, Iraqi media under the influence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards circulated rumours about Kadhimi’s visit to the US being cancelled due to Washington’s anger at Baghdad’s accomodating policy towards Tehran, and at the Iraqi government’s failure to crack down on the Iran-backed rogue groups and militias.

Government sources, however, have categorically denied these rumours, stressing that Iraq and the United States are in close communication through official channels, and that they have already set the date for Kadhimi’s visit but will not disclose it yet.

Kadhimi’s planned visit to the United States is of great importance, because it follows a visit by the Iraqi Prime Minister to Tehran a week ago. and during which he turned down Ali Khamenei’s explicit request to secure US dollars.

Observers said that the United States has taken Kadhimi’s refusal to circumvent US sanctions against Iran as a sign of good intentions, opening the door to broad possibilities for strengthening the relationship between Baghdad and Washington.

Kadhimi will have to show more enthusiasm for the US plan to have Iraq’s electricity grid connected to the grids of the Arab Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia’s, in order to reduce Baghdad’s dependence on electricity and gas supplied by Iran.

This particular issue poses a great challenge to the Iraqi government, as observers believe that if such a step came to be taken, it would elicit significant reactions on the part of Tehran.

Because of US sanctions, Iraq represents a vital economic artery for Iran. Baghdad buys from Iran both electricity and the gas needed to generate its own electricity.

Observers believe that Iraq’s dependence on Iranian energy supplies has deep political ramifications that affect Baghdad’s sovereign decisions, while the United States wants to free Iraq from that commitment by ensuring a cheaper and better quality alternative from the Gulf region.

Iraqi sources said that the Iraqi prime minister will be listening in Washington to the detailed American vision in this issue, including the offer to involve multinational companies in the repair and maintenance of Iraq’s national electricity system.

In anticipation of Kadhimi’s visit, the US State Department emphasised its confidence in the desire of the Iraqi people to maintain the presence of the international coalition troops in Iraq for the purpose of providing advice and training to the Iraqi forces.