Analysis: How Have the Washington-Baghdad Strategic Talks Gone So Far?

Analysis: How Have the Washington-Baghdad Strategic Talks Gone So Far?

Third round of strategic dialogue between the US and Iraq was held last week, nearly a year after its first and second rounds were held under Donald Trump. Since the beginning of the talks between Baghdad and Washington, Iraqi factions' demands mainly focused on the expulsion of the American troops from Iraq that the US rejects. To be precise, Washington, behind the strategic negotiations, tries to prepare the ground for its military stay in Iraq.

Third round of strategic dialogue between the US and Iraq was held last week, nearly a year after its first and second rounds were held under Donald Trump. Since the beginning of the talks between Baghdad and Washington, Iraqi factions' demands mainly focused on the expulsion of the American troops from Iraq that the US rejects. To be precise, Washington, behind the strategic negotiations, tries to prepare the ground for its military stay in Iraq.

Outcome of three rounds of talks: Washington seeks to keep occupation under new titles

The American-Iraqi strategic talks, aimed at strengthening the bilateral economic, security, and military, cooperation first began on June 2020. Since the first meeting, expulsion of the American forces was seriously addressed and a withdrawal timetable was set but was not implemented on the ground.

The second round of talks took place on August 18, 2020, during the several-day visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to Washington. In that round, the two sides reached a long-term security agreement to counter the threats, according to Donald Trump and al-Kadhimi. At the time, the Iraqi government signed an $8 billion contract with five US energy companies. In the first and second rounds, the issue of the American pullout was not given adequate spotlight, triggering large-scale criticism internally.

The third round, held on April 7, was a video conference between the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein of Iraq, in which the exit received priority contrary to earlier rounds. In a closing statement, the two sides announced that Baghdad and Washington agreed that the Iraqi forces are "ready" to take more responsibilities. They further stated that the American command and Washington-led coalition currently concentrate on training and advising and so allow the remaining combat forces to leave Iraq according to a timetable that would be discussed in future technical talks.

Qassem al-A'araji, Iraq's national security advisor, noted that during the talks with the Americans, both sides agreed that no American military base will remain in Iraq.

"The third round of negotiations was successful. The American side pledged to withdraw a significant number of its troops from Iraq, and the Iraqi government, in turn, reiterated its commitment to protecting diplomatic missions and delegations. We talked to the American side about the progress that the Iraqi forces have made in the fight against terrorism," al-A'araji added.

Wasting time, Washington's roadmap in the strategic talks

Three rounds of strategic talks have gone in a way while the US main agenda behind the engagement in the dialogue has been sidelining the Iraqi demands for withdrawal, or at least delaying the implementation of Iraqi parliament's bill to expel foreign forces campaigning in Iraq uninvited. Iraq's parliament approved a binding-for-government bill calling for expulsion of troops whose presence is uncalled-for. Three rounds of talks seem to have made for Washington achievements in this direction, contrary to the will of the Iraqi people and political parties. To this end, the Americans have used two key tactics:

Hiding behind terrorism ruse to justify military stay

Coinciding with the start of strategic talks, the main debate and the main demand of the Iraqi political factions from the government was to draw a roadmap for the withdrawal of US and the so-called anti-terror Western coalition's troops. But the Americans negotiators tried to subtly drive out of agenda the military pullout demands. Actually, the Americans highlight the protests in Iraq and ISIS threats in a bid to make ground for their stay and influence in Iraq.

Prioritizing economic reforms

On the other hand, during three rounds of strategic talks with Baghdad, the Americans have tried to divert public opinion from the implementation of the parliamentary bill on the expulsion of foreign troops by proposing economic reforms as a top priority. From Washington's point of view, as long as reforming the economy is a priority for the citizens, the issue of the US intervention and occupation in Iraq is not worth addressing. That is why Washington representatives try to shift the priority of the Iraqis from security to economic agreements.

This American approach, which enjoys the PM al-Kadhimi’s flexibility and tolerance, has so far drawn serious criticism from political factions. The politicians argue that the defining agenda of the strategic dialogue should be the end of the US occupation in Iraq. However, the current process reveals that the Iraqi negotiators are subdued by Washington’s divertive tactics as they show passivity in implementing the foreign troop expulsion bill.




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