Barbara Leaf emphasises resolving disputes between Iraq and Kurds on regional trip

US assistant secretary of state is in Iraq after period of violent political instability

Barbara Leaf meets with Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi in Baghdad. Photo: Iraqi Prime Minister's Office
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Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, expressed the “urgency” of resolving the political impasse in Iraq and the importance of unity among Kurdish parties in meetings with local political leaders, the State Department said on Wednesday.

Ms Leaf is in Iraq this week on the tailend of a regional trip that has also included Tunisia, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Vedant Patel, the State Department's deputy spokesman, confirmed to reporters that Ms Leaf had reiterated US President Joe Biden's calls for a peaceful resolution to disputes between Iraq and the Kurdish region, and added that energy issues between Baghdad and Erbil were also discussed.

Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government have been engaged in escalating disputes over natural resources, made worse by violent political infighting in Baghdad.

A months-long political stalemate in Iraq culminated last month with influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr withdrawing members of his party from parliament. A group of his followers then stormed and occupied Baghdad's Green Zone, engaging in deadly clashes with security forces and rival militia groups after Mr Al Sadr announced his resignation from politics.

The ensuing violence killed at least 30 people.

“We encourage the parties to determine a way forward that supports existing and future investment that advances the interest of the Iraqi people, including those in the Kurdistan region as well,” Mr Patel said.

“This includes working to advance the US Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement to support areas in which we can collaborate together, including energy, education and infrastructure.”

Mr Patel denied that the administration had raised Iraqi-Kurdish energy disputes in response to recent congressional calls for enhanced engagement on the matter.

Congressional Republicans wrote to Mr Biden is recent weeks, saying that the energy disputes endanger Washington's mission of “supporting a stable, sovereign and democratic Iraq free from malign foreign influence”.

Meanwhile, the State Department re-emphasised that Washington supports Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi's calls for peace, but views the unrest as Baghdad's responsibility.

“We don't view this as a US issue,” Mr Patel told reporters.

“It's an Iraqi issue and our posture has continued to be calling for calm and calling for peace amid some of the demonstrations and ultimately what we want to see is a strong, united, resilient and sovereign Iraqi state.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi threatens to resign if political tension continues

Updated: September 07, 2022, 8:28 PM
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