In Strategic Dialogue, Iraq Tries to Strike Balance Between US, Iran

Iraq tried to strike a “balanced foreign policy” between the United States and Iran as its high-level delegation held a second strategic dialogue with their U.S. counterparts in Washington, according to experts.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein held a joint press availability on Aug. 19 with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, where Hussein spoke about Iraqs relationships with its ally, the United States, and also with its neighbor, Iran.

“With respect to the Iraqi policy, we see that the United States of America is an ally and a strong ally for Iraq and well continue to protect this alliance and to deepen it and to expand it. And regarding Iran, Iran is a neighboring country and as a result, there are ties pertaining to geography, history, culture, economy, and Iraqi policy or Iraqs foreign policy is out of Iraqs national interest,” he said, responding to a question about “snapback sanctions” against Iran and how they affect Iraq.

“We want to have good relations with our neighbors, provided that nobody interferes in Iraqs affairs and the Iraqi decision will be made by the Iraqis to protect our alliances and relations with others, including the United States of America.”

Experts told The Epoch Times that Iraq is trying to maintain a balanced foreign policy between the adversaries United States and Iran, and the on-ground development is that, for the time being, both have taken a step back from their confrontational stance in Iraq.

“The Iraqi government generally, and the new Prime Minister Kadhimi (as well as the foreign minister), have to maintain a delicate balance,” Yezid​ Sayigh, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Middle East Center, told The Epoch Times in an email.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (R) meets with Iraqs Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein during a press conference at the State Department in Washington on Aug. 19, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

“So the FM could hardly say anything different. But Kadhimi is regarded as trying to contain Iranian influence, especially within the security and defense sectors, in part by asserting more control over the Popular Mobilization Units, some parts of which are closely allied with Iran,” said Sayigh, who is based in Beirut.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who was named as the nations 43rd prime minister by President Barham Salih in April, after the previous government collapsed after months of public protests, will visit the White House on Aug. 20.

“As close partners, the United States and Iraq will look to expand our relations across a range of issues, including security, energy, health care, and economic cooperation,” the State Department said in an Aug. 7 statement.

Sayigh said Iraqi officials want to reiterate a “positive neutrality” toward Iran and the United States but also want to be able to reduce Iranian influence.

“They dont just do this to please the U.S., but also to defuse anti-Iranian sentiment among Iraqis Sunni Arabs and also Iraqi nationalists among the Shia and other constituencies. So their approach reflects diverse factors,” Sayigh said.

Iran faces a difficult situation as both the United States and Iran compete for supremacy in the Middle East, according to Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow and the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

“This has been true for successive Iraqi governments since 2003. It is a reality that will not change anytime soon. The good news is that both Washington and Tehran have chosen to reduce their competition for influence in Iraq to give Kadhimi some space to put his government in place,” Vatanka told The Epoch Times in an email.

“Both Iran and the U.S. want the other party out of Iraq, but are happy to settle for a long-term strategy to achieve it instead of risking fueling the collapse of the Iraqi state.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi
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