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Iraqi, US leaders meet at Davos to discuss troop presence, regional stability

2020-01-22

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SULAIMANI — Iraqi President Barham Salih met with US President Donald Trump on Wednesday (January 22) and hailed the common strategic goals of the two countries, but revealed little of substance about the way forward following the US’ assassination of an Iranian military commander near Baghdad.

The pair met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland for a hotly anticipated bilateral, given how recent tensions between the US and Iran are playing out in Iraq.

“It’s an important opportunity to meet President Trump to talk about the developments in our neighborhood. These are challenging times, difficult times,” Salih told reporters at the start of the meeting.

“We have had an enduring relationship, and the United States has been a partner to Iraq and in the war against ISIS. This mission needs to be accomplished, and I believe you and I share the same mission for a stable, sovereign Iraq that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbors,” he added.

For his part, Trump focused on military issues, troop numbers, and oil.

On the issue of whether the US was going to pull its 5,000 troops out of Iraq, Trump praised his administration’s relationship with Baghdad and said that the issue was under discussion. Despite a vote in the Council of Representatives signaling the desire of Shia MPs to end the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil, the Trump administration has so far rebuffed suggestions that it would engage in negotiations to leave.

Asked by reporters about whether he was still considering sanctions against Iraq, as he had threatened, Trump said, “we’ll see what happens because we do have to do things on our terms.”

He then pivoted to praising US involvement in the Iraqi oil industry.

“We’re also involved with them in their oil business, and that’s always been very important from their standpoint and from our standpoint. So we have a lot of very positive things to talk about.”

In late December, a US defense contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a base outside of Kirkuk that the US blamed on an Iranian-back militia. Washington responded with a lethal airstrike on the militia in Anbar province.

At the funeral of the militia fighters, their comrades marched on the US embassy in Baghdad and staged a violent demonstration there.

On January 3, a US drone strike killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis near Baghdad, prompting the Council of Representatives’ vote. Iran retaliated by launching a barrage of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases hosting US and Iraqi troops.

While tensions have calmed somewhat since then, the issue remains live, with Iraqi leaders warning, as Salih did, of the importance of maintaining Iraqi sovereignty and regional stability.

(NRT Digital Media)