Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi received a call from USÂ PresidentÂ Joe Biden on Feb. 23Â â€”Â the first call from Biden to an Arab leader and the second call to the Middle EastÂ after Israel.
Discussions centered on bilateral relations, strengthening and developing partnerships, cooperation on supporting security and peace in the region, andÂ continuing their partnership in fighting the Islamic State (IS), according to a tweet by Kadhimi.
Selecting Iraq as theÂ first country to contact in the Arab world indicates that Iraq remains at the top of the US priority list in the Middle East.
This comes despite the fact that the United StatesÂ is reducing its troops in Iraq as part of the US-IraqÂ strategic dialogue that began in 2020 to build a comprehensiveÂ framework between the two countries.
US military forces in Iraq were cut to 2,500 within about 6 months after it was more than 5,000. This number is the lowest level in the nearly two decades the United States has been in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.
The US troopÂ reduction reflects “the increased capabilities of the Iraqi security forces,”Â said former US Secretary of Defense Chris Miller.
The two leaders’ focus on supporting the region’s security and peaceÂ and continuing the fight against IS shows there is no change in US policy in Iraq in terms of counterterrorism and maintaining security.
This also reinforces Miller’s statement last January that US troopÂ reduction “does not equate to a change in US policy,” adding, “We will continue to have a counterterrorism platform in Iraq to support partner forces with air power and intelligence.”
This comes in conjunction with NATO’s Feb. 22 decisionÂ to â€œexpand the activities and increase the size of NATOâ€™s training mission in Iraq.â€
â€œAllied defense ministers [decided to increase] the size of NATO’s [training mission in] Iraq from 500 personnel to around 4,000, and to expand training activities to include more Iraqi security institutionsÂ and areas beyond Baghdad,â€Â NATO’s statement read.
The above information supports Kadhimi’s statement after talking to Biden that â€œstrategic dialogue continues to serve as a roadmap for the future.â€
In fact, strategic dialogue has reduced tension in the region without affecting the security status or harming Iraq’s relationship with the United States, which already seems stronger and more strategic under Biden whenÂ compared with the former president, Donald Trump, whose interest in Iraq was mostly due to his agenda against Iran.
In terms of Iraq’s security situation, Iraq has already provenÂ its ability to take onÂ IS recently, despite the reduction of US troops. SeveralÂ high-ranking IS commanders were killed over the last few months by Iraqi forces, and a number of successful operations were launched in different parts of Iraq.
A military operation occurred last week in Tarmiyah in northern Baghdad, killing IS waliÂ Shukor al-MashhadaniÂ and destroying sleeperÂ cells there. Last month, IS’s highest commander in Iraq, Abu Yasser Al-Issawi,Â who serves as deputy caliphÂ in the organization, was also killed. AÂ large IS network was destroyed last December in southern Mosul by counterterrorism forces, killing dozens and cleansing the entire area.
Despite the abovementioned facts, rockets being fired atÂ US facilities remains a big challenge for the Iraqi government in terms of maintaining its relationship with the United States.
Iraqi security forces captured Hosam AzergawiÂ â€”Â the engineer of the rocket attacks last December that targeted US facilities, embassies and bases â€”Â along withÂ other militants who were arrested during the investigation. The rocket attacksÂ stopped after Azergawi’s arrestÂ but began againÂ last week, as unknown militias attacked a US base in Erbil’s international airport Feb. 16Â and the US Embassy in Baghdad Feb. 22.
But Biden does not appear willing to give up on Iraq for the recent security breaches, and the two leaders agreed that people responsible for the recent rocket attacks against Iraqi and coalition personnel “must be held fully to account,”Â according to a White HouseÂ statement.
“Iraq will not be an arena for settling scores, and the absurd missiles are an attempt to impede the government’s progress and embarrass it. But our security services will reach the perpetrators, and they will be brought before the public opinion,” Kadhimi said Feb. 23 in a Cabinet meeting.
In terms of the economy, the United StatesÂ is a key member of theÂ Iraq Economic Contact Group that was formed last October to support Iraq during anÂ economic crisis. The European Union,Â Japan and Saudi Arabia, among others, are members of this group.
Iraq prepared last year its first financial and fiscal reform plan known asÂ the White Paper; theÂ second part of the White Paper was released early this month. This year’s budget is also the first budget formed based on an economic reform plan.
As a result of Iraq’s economic reform, Standard & Poor’s credit rating has reaffirmed Iraq’s ratingsÂ as â€œStable.â€Â This is a massive plus for Iraq and confirms the international financial market’s support of Iraq’s economic policies.
In terms ofÂ foreign relations, Iraq’s recent openness to the world andÂ its active diplomacy has created a more stable status for the country in the region and the world. Iraq has kept its strategic relationship with the United StatesÂ a top priority in spite ofÂ the militias’ actions.
Moreover, the Iraqi government has improved its relationships with Jordan and Egypt asÂ part of the â€œNew Levant,â€ a term used by Kadhimi during his trip to Jordan last year. Simultaneously, Iraq is improving its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in general by gettingÂ them to invest in the country, connect power gridsÂ and participate in other projects.
This has not come at the expense of Iraq’s relationship with Iran, which continues to grow. The Iraqi government is signing the Basra-ShalamchehÂ rail connection next week, connecting Iran’s Shalamcheh border crossing to the port of Basra in southeast Iraq,Â as a sign of the growing relationship between the two countries.
All of the above indicates that Iraq will remain at the core of US policy in the Middle EastÂ despite the great challenges both countries face in maintaining their strategic relationship due to the ongoing conflict in the region between different axes.