‘Strategic dialogue’ to bring Kadhimi, Trump together later this month

During the visit, the first by an Iraqi premier to the White House in three years, US economic help is among top of Kadhimi’s concerns.
Saturday 08/08/2020
A file picture shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) welcoming Mustafa al-Kadhimi then-director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) at the US department of state, in March 2019. (DPA)
A file picture shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) welcoming Mustafa al-Kadhimi then-director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) at the US department of state, in March 2019. (DPA)

WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump will host a visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to the White House on August 20 to discuss challenges posed by security, energy and economic issues as well as the coronovirus pandemic, the White House said in a statement, Friday.

The exceptional circumstances that Iraq is going through as well as the complex situation in the region and the world would give the visit a special significance, according to observers.

For Iraq, the visit could mark a turning point in regional and international relations, especially following the escalation of a competition for influence between Washington and Tehran.

While the administration of US President Donald Trump is pursuing a policy of maximum pressure to compel Iran to change its behaviour, Tehran is threatening to use all of its capabilities to respond to this pressure, including the use of its Shia militias in Iraq to strike US forces and interests there. Iran is also betting on a change of administration after the next November elections.

On his visit, Kadhimi will meet President Donald Trump and a number of senior officials in the US administration, including the defence and treasury secretaries.

Iraqis hope that the visit of Kadhimi will focus on the economy file, with some hoping for US assistance to alleviate Iraq’s severe financial crisis, which was compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and the latest plunge in oil prices.

There are hopes among Iraqi officials that Kadhimi will be able to discuss security, political and economic files as one combined package with the US administration.

These hopes come as Washington is expected to do so in an attempt to lure Baghdad away from Iranian influence by offering rewarding financial alternatives.

With the intensification of the crisis in Iraq, the country could resort to external borrowing. The United States could encourage  lenders, whether friendly countries or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to be responsive to Iraq’s demands.

According to sources who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, the future of the US forces in Iraq and the ongoing missile attacks by Iran-backed militias are set to top the visit’s agenda.

The visit comes at a time when Baghdad and Washington are expected to agree on a roadmap to reduce the mission of the international coalition participating in the US-led war against ISIS.

The downsizing of the coalition’s mission, however, will not affect military cooperation between Iraq and the US, according to the same sources.

Kadhimi rose to the premiership in May after serving as the head of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service for nearly four years, which helped him form a close relationship with Washington and a number of Iraq’s neighbouring countries.

He is also known to be respected by Iran’s intelligence services and government circles, which prompted speculation he could mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

They were also speculations he could carry messages from Tehran to Washington. But sources in Baghdad quashed such rumours and said that carrying any messages from Iran is not among Kadhimi’s priorities during his short visit to the US.

Enjoying a favourable reputation in Washington, the Iraqi premier is expected to focus on securing immediate US economic help to his country as part of the strategic dialogue.

It would be the first visit by an Iraqi premier to the White House in three years. US officials never extended an invitation to former Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, whom they saw as too close to Iran.

Tensions skyrocketed following a US drone strike on Baghdad in January that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

In recent months, Washington was reportedly encouraging a rapprochement between Baghdad and Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia.

In early July, officials from Iraq, the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council discussed over teleconference an arrangement for Iraq to import electricity from Kuwait, a deal which was agreed last year but has yet to come into effect.

As he is carefully attempting to balance ties to Washington and Tehran, Kadhimi is concerned his country would become a battleground between the two arch-enemies.

Kadhimi’s upcoming visit to Washington could raise concerns in Tehran as Iranians fear more cooperation and coordination between Baghdad and the US.

For Iranian, a boost in the two countries’ relations could mean a threat to their influence on the Iraqi scene, especially if Kadhimi’s government agrees to indirectly back the process of maximum pressure on Iran by abiding with US sanctions.

Against this background, observers expect Kadhimi will face severe pressure from Iran’s supporters and proxies in Iraq ahead of his visit to Washington.

This pressure, according to observers, is aimed at hindering any understandings that the Iraqi prime minister might have with Washington.