| 21 April 2024, Sunday |

Al Kadhimi returns to Iraq bearing gifts from Biden

US President Joe Biden farewells Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi with several generous gifts, and a promise that the US could strengthen ITS hand in the lead up to Iraq’s parliamentary elections.

The latest meeting in the US-Iraq strategic dialogue wrapped on Monday with a White House summit between Mr Al Kadhimi and Mr Biden.

Much of the attention focused on the largely symbolic announcement that the US would end its combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, a change that will not result in any actual withdrawal of the 2,500 US soldiers stationed there in an advice-and-assist capacity.

While the announcement will surely do little to appease the Iran-backed factions pressuring Mr Al Kadhimi to fully expel US forces, he can point to a series of other concrete commitments made by the Biden administration before the elections scheduled for October.

“There need to be deliverables, just for Al Kadhimi to go back to Baghdad to say ‘I got this,’” Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told The National. “That has been the case all the time in the past, and so that has been a standard modus operandi.”

Mr Al Kadhimi personally thanked Mr Biden in front of reporters after the president said that 500,000 Covid vaccines donated by the US would arrive in Iraqi within the next two weeks. The US will also provide another $800,000 in funding for Iraq’s pathogen track-and-trace programmes.

Mr Biden touted expanded co- operation on other healthcare and energy issues. Specifically, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is signing an agreement with the Iraqi health sector to improve the country’s public health capacity after several hospital fires in recent months killed dozens of patients and further fuelled continuing anti-government protests.

The US also committed to providing Iraq with $155 million in humanitarian assistance for more than one million internally displaced people residing in the country and the Development Finance Corporation will invest about $1 billion to bolster the Iraqi private sector.

Washington will also provide $1.2m in funding to restore Iraqi universities destroyed by ISIS in Nineveh province.

Additionally, a senior administration official said the US is finalising agreements to fund a project connecting the Iraqi and Jordanian electricity grids.

The US Agency for International Development is funding the project in Jordan, while the US-based energy company General Electric is providing funds to do the same on the Iraqi side.

While the US has continually renewed a sanctions waiver for Iraq to import the natural gas it needs from Iran to fuel its electricity sector, Washington continues to pressure Baghdad to reduce its reliance on Iranian oil. Frequent power shortages over the last several years have exacerbated anti-government protests that began in 2019.

The senior administration official also said the US and Iraq will soon complete a project to capture a daily 5.2 million cubic metres in flares from oil exploration in southern Iraq, which account for approximately 10 per cent of flared greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

In addition, the Biden administration is pushing for Iraq to move ahead with its elections as scheduled and is providing assistance to that end.

The White House readout of Mr Al Kadhimi’s meeting with Mr Biden noted that “the leaders agreed on the vital importance of holding these elections on time and welcomed the UN monitoring mission to support their full transparency and fairness”.

  • The National News