Visit to Washington opens 'new chapter' in US-Iraqi relations, Al Sudani says

Week-long trip comes amid heightened concerns over tension in the Middle East

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa Al Sudani held a series of meetings in Washington over the course of the week. Reuters
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Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani on Friday said his week-long visit to Washington would help to open “a new chapter” in bilateral ties, as Baghdad pushes the US to withdraw its troops from the country.

Mr Al Sudani said he had held a wide range of political, military and economic meetings with senior US officials aimed at deepening bilateral relations.

“We found positivity upon which we can build in the next phase,” Mr Al Sudani said at an event held at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

His visit came amid heightened tension in the Middle East following an attack on a military base in the Iranian city of Isfahan on Thursday, largely believed to have been carried out by Israel.

The strike on Iran came less than a week after Tehran launched an unprecedented barrage of rockets and drones against Israel at the weekend.

The retaliatory attacks have reignited concerns that the Israel-Gaza could spill over across the region.

Troop withdrawal

The trip came as the US is pushing Iraq to do more to rein in Iranian-backed groups operating in the country, some of which carried out a series of attacks on American troops stationed in the region.

Mr Al Sudani, who took office in October 2022, wants to forge a new relationship with Washington that pivots away from the security focus of the past decades towards one focused more on economic opportunities.

High on his list of priorities is the withdrawal from Iraq of US and allied troops, who arrived in the country a decade ago to help Baghdad in the fight against ISIS. About 2,500 US troops remain in Iraq in an advise-and-assist capacity.

Negotiations are under way but have been affected by the Israel-Gaza war, which Mr Al Sudani said puts the entire region at risk.

“All of us, especially the United States, as a leader, must stop this war immediately and find a way to end the bloodshed permanently,” Mr Al Sudani said.

“We must act before it is too late.”

Mr Al Sudani, who has been critical of US support for Israel amid the conflict, said the war is emboldening armed groups in Iraq to carry out attacks on US troops and complicating efforts to keep them at bay.

Ultimately, he said that as long as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unresolved, the entire region will be at risk of violence and instability.

Elizabeth Tsurkov

During the event, the sister of Elizabeth Tsurkov an Israeli-Russian doctoral student at Princeton University who was kidnapped in Iraq last March, heckled the Prime Minister.

“Shame on you, shame on you,” she said from the back of the room.

Mr Al Sudani said he sympathised with Ms Tsurkov and her family, and his government has set up a special security team tasked with investigating what had happened to her.

“We are committed to finding out what happened and hold to account those responsible,” he said.

Members of Congress had urged the Biden administration to press Mr Al Sudani on Ms Tsurkov's detention during his visit to Washington.

Updated: April 19, 2024, 10:08 PM