Blinken meets Iraqi Kurdistan PM in Washington amid regional tension

Meeting comes after talks between Baghdad and Washington over possibility of pulling US anti-ISIS troops out of country

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, in Washington. AP
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani in Washington on Monday amid rising tension in Iraq over calls for the removal of US anti-ISIS coalition troops.

“The United States has a long partnership with the … Kurdistan Regional Government,” Mr Blinken said before the meeting.

“And it’s a partnership that is cemented first and foremost in shared values, shared interests and also a shared history of sacrifice together.”

The meeting comes after recent talks between Baghdad and Washington over the possibility of pulling US troops out of the country.

A US-led coalition has been in Iraq since ISIS swept through the country in 2014.

The group was defeated in 2017, but about 2,500 American troops remain in Iraq in an advise-and-assist capacity.

The Iraqi government has been under increasing internal pressure over the presence of US troops.

“We are very proud to say that we are American allies,” Mr Barzani said.

US launches retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed targets in Iraq and Syria – video

US launches retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed targets in Iraq and Syria

US launches retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed targets in Iraq and Syria

“We have been through some very difficult times and we are very thankful and we express our gratitude for the support that the US has always given to our people.

"And now we are having some new challenges in the region.”

In a statement released on Tuesday, the State Department said Mr Blinken and Mr Barzani had spoken on "the importance of Kurdish participation in the US-Iraq Higher Military Commission, which will enable the transition to an enduring bilateral security partnership between the United States and Iraq, including the Kurdistan region".

Mr Barzani has voiced concern over moves in the Iraqi Parliament to force US troops to leave the country, as he believes ISIS is still a significant threat.

“All Iraqi components must realise that the threat of terrorism and its reappearance remains valid,” he told the US charge d'affaires David Burger last week.

Mr Barzani said the “interests, stability and security of all Iraqi regions and components must be taken into consideration”.

Baghdad and Washington have held at least two rounds of talks since last month on ending the US-led international coalition to fight ISIS.

Mr Barzani's visit also comes after US strikes on Iraqi territory in response to attacks by Iran-backed militia groups on American troops.

After an attack on a base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers, the US hit Iran-backed sites in Iraq and Syria on February 2.

Five days later, US forces killed a Kataib Hezbollah commander in Iraq.

Attacks on US troops in the Middle East have risen sharply since the start of the Israel-Gaza war in October.

Updated: February 27, 2024, 4:20 PM