Al Sudani says he does not want Iraq involved in broader conflict

On Washington visit, Iraqi Prime Minister balances domestic pressures with US expectations

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani is on a diplomatic visit to Washington. April 16. The National
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani said he does not want his country to be involved in any escalation of the conflict in the Middle East after Iran used Iraqi airspace to launch its drone and missile attack against Israel.

Speaking on Tuesday during his week-long visit to Washington, Mr Al Sudani also accused Israel of directly striking Palestinian civilians and said details on when US troops might leave Iraq were expected in July.

“Our intention is not to be involved in this escalation that has a great influence on our country and the security and the stability of our country,” Mr Al Sudani said, adding that the “root problem” of current tensions is the unresolved Palestinian issue and Israel's war in Gaza.

“Without a just resolution, there are going to be groups who believe they have a just cause to fight,” he said, accusing Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of deliberately seeking to widen the conflict in the region.

“Everybody is witnessing the criminality being inflicted against Palestinians, it is a genocide in the true sense.”

A coalition of western and Arab countries shot down hundreds of Iranian drones and missiles bound for Israel on Saturday as Tehran launched a retaliatory strike after Israel bombed the Iranian embassy in Damascus this month, killing a senior general and other officers.

Israel is now expected to hit back at Iran, leaving the world on edge as to whether the tit-for-tat strikes will spark a regional war.

Since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people, more than 33,800 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s incursion in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry.

Mr Al Sudani, who has been serving as Prime Minister since 2022, is on a diplomatic mission as Iraq looks to forge a new relationship with Washington that pivots away from the security-centric focus of the past two decades.

The Iraqi government wants the US military to leave the country. Talks are well under way but have been delayed by the aftermath of October 7. Mr Al Sudani said a commission looking at the issue is expected to announce a schedule in July.

In 2014, thousands of US and international troops travelled to help fight ISIS both in Iraq and Syria. About 2,500 US troops remain in Iraq in an advisory and training capacity to help Iraqi forces.

“ISIS is no longer the same threat in Iraq now as it has been in the past. So it is very natural to revise this coalition that was formed based on an invite by the Iraqi government,” Mr Al Sudani said.

Mr Al Sudani met President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday in a high-profile visit that comes as the US is pushing Iraq to do more to rein in Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.

Iran-backed proxies attacked US troops and assets in Iraq and Syria more than 170 times since October 7 but those strikes abated after three American soldiers were killed in Jordan in January.

When asked about Iraq's reliance on Iranian natural gas, Mr Al Sudani pointed to a “promising project” and said his country would be self-sufficient in terms of gas production within three to five years.

On the detention of Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli-Russian doctoral student at Princeton University who was conducting research in Baghdad when she was kidnapped last March, Mr Al Sudani said Iraq has stood up a “special security team” to find out what happened to her.

The Israeli government believes she is being held by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed armed militia operating in Iraq that has also been blamed for a series of attacks on US troops in the region.

Mr Al Sudani has been critical of the Biden administration’s continued political and military support of Israel’s war on Gaza, even as the Palestinian death toll continues to mount, viewing it as emboldening armed groups in carrying out attacks on US troops and complicating his efforts to keep them at bay.

After completing his trip to Washington, Mr Al Sudani is set to host Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 22.

Updated: April 17, 2024, 3:45 AM