Biden receives the Iraqi leader after Iran’s attack on Israel brings greater uncertainty to the Middle East

(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Biden receives the Iraqi leader after Iran’s attack on Israel brings greater uncertainty to the Middle East


Matthew Lee, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Zeke Miller

April 15, 2024

President Biden praised the “unprecedented military effort to defend Israel” as he hosted the Iraqi leader at the White House on Monday, saying his administration aims to prevent an escalation of hostilities in the Middle East following Iran’s attack over the weekend prevent.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani was visiting the White House for talks focused on US-Iraq relations, which were scheduled well before the Iranian attacks. But Saturday’s drone and missile launches, including some that flew over Iraqi airspace and others launched from Iraq by Iranian-backed groups, have underscored the delicate relationship between Washington and Baghdad.

The sharp increase in regional tensions over Israel’s war in Gaza and developments over the weekend have raised further questions about the viability of the two-decade US military presence in Iraq. However, a US Patriot battery in Irbil, Iraq, shot down at least one Iranian ballistic missile, one of dozens of missiles and drones destroyed by US forces alongside Israeli efforts to defeat the attack, according to US officials.

Speaking at the start of the meeting in the Oval Office, Biden emphasized that the US remains committed to Israel’s security.”

Our partnership is critical to our nations, the Middle East and the world, Biden told Al-Sudani, as the Iraqi leader noted that the discussion comes at a sensitive time.

During a meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Tamim before Biden’s session with Al-Sudani, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the US is urging all parties to avoid escalation.

In the 36 hours since, we coordinated a diplomatic response to prevent escalation, he said. Strength and wisdom must be different sides of the same coin.

Drone attacks in Jordan are complicating Biden’s efforts to curb the war between Israel and Hamas

Tamim said the Iraqi government was equally concerned.

“The Middle East today is living in exceptional circumstances that are impacting our nations, and we hope that the escalations and tensions in the area will come to an end,” he said.

Complicating matters further, Iranian allies have initiated attacks from Iraq on US interests across the region. These continued attacks have made U.S.-Iraq discussions about regional stability and future U.S. troop deployments all the more important.

Monday’s talks would also focus on economic, trade and energy issues that have become a key priority for the Iraqi government. Biden praises Al-Sudani for strengthening Iraq’s economy.

The Iraqi leader also pressed Biden to work for a quick end to the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, now in its seventh month, and said economic dialogue


could not ignore the humanitarian needs in the region. Biden, for his part, said the US has committed to a ceasefire that will bring the hostages home and prevent the conflict from spreading.

The US and Iraq began formal talks in January about ending the coalition created to help the Iraqi government fight


Islamic State, with about 2,000 U.S. troops still in the country under an agreement with Baghdad. Iraqi officials have periodically called for those troops to be withdrawn.

The two countries have a delicate relationship, partly due to Iran’s significant influence in Iraq, where a coalition of Iranian-backed groups brought Al-Sudani to power in October 2022.

Iran launches air strikes on Israel in retaliation, increasing the chance of a new conflict

The US has in recent months urged Iraq to do more to prevent attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria, which have further roiled the Middle East in the wake of Hamas. 7 attacks on Israel. Iranian attacks on Israel over Iraqi airspace over the weekend further underlined US concerns, although Al-Sudani had already left Baghdad and was heading to Washington when the drones and missiles were launched.

The US has also tried to put financial pressure on Baghdad’s relationship with Tehran, restricting Iraq’s access to its own dollars in an effort to stamp out money laundering, which it says benefits Iran and Syria.

Most former Iraqi prime ministers visited Washington earlier in their terms. Al-Sudani’s visit was postponed due to tensions between the US and Iran and regional escalation, including the Gaza war and the killing of three US soldiers in Jordan in a drone strike in late January. That was followed by a U.S. strike that killed a leader of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, whom Washington accused of planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces.

Al-Sudani has tried to maintain a balancing act between Iran and America, despite being seen as close to Tehran and despite several incidents that have put his government in an embarrassing position vis-à-vis Washington.

Early in his term, an American citizen, Stephen Edward Troell, was shot dead by armed men who accosted him as he drove onto the street where he lived with his family in Baghdad’s central Karrada neighborhood. An Iraqi criminal court convicted five men last August and sentenced them to life in prison in the case, which officials described as a botched kidnapping.

Israel hails ‘success’ in blocking Iran’s unprecedented attack; Biden seeks diplomatic response

A few months later, Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli-Russian doctoral student at Princeton, was kidnapped while doing research in Iraq. She is believed to be being held by Kataib Hezbollah. The senior US official said Tsurkov’s case would also be raised during Al-Sudani’s visit.

Al-Sudani began his term with promises to focus on economic development and the fight against corruption, but his government has faced economic problems, including a discrepancy in the official and market exchange rates between the Iraqi dinar and the US dollar .

The currency problems were partly the result of a U.S. tightening of dollar supplies to Iraq as part of a crackdown on money laundering and smuggling into Iran. As part of the campaign, the US has banned more than 20 Iraqi banks from dealing in dollars.

Al-Sudani’s government recently extended Iraq’s contract to buy natural gas from Iran for another five years, which could spark American dismay.

The Iraqi prime minister will return to Iraq and meet with the Turkish president after his trip to Washington, which could ultimately lead to a resolution to a long-running dispute over the export of oil from Kurdish areas of Iraq to Turkey. Washington has been trying to restart the flow of oil.

Lee, Abdul-Zahra and Miller write for the Associated Press. Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad. Eric Tucker and Josh Bock in Washington contributed to this report.


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