US looks to expand ties with Iraq beyond military presence: State Department official

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The United States is looking to expand its relationship with Iraq beyond just a military presence and Washington will work with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to make this happen, a State Department official said Friday.

US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue began earlier in the week, one day after a rocket attack inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, near the US Embassy.

A joint statement was released after the first meeting between American and Iraqi officials late on Thursday. Both countries agreed that “in light of significant progress towards eliminating the ISIS threat, over the coming months the US would continue reducing forces from Iraq.” The statement added that talks would be held over developing a bilateral security relationship “based on strong mutual interests.”

On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the US is looking to have that political, economic, diplomatic, financial relationship that America has with many countries throughout the world.

“The purpose of this strategic dialogue is … just the first step toward normalization in ties where we don’t need to treat Iraq as sort of this warzone country anymore,” Ortagus told Al Arabiya.

“We are looking at not just our troop presence there,” she added.

In the joint statement, the US “reaffirmed” its respect for Iraq’s sovereignty.

Asked how this would be possible with such influence by Iran and its militias inside Iraq, Ortagus said the US has been able to “greatly impair” Iran’s ability to fund its militias.

“Iran has nefarious intentions in Iraq,” she said.

Citing the US as the largest humanitarian donor to Iraq, Ortagus said Washington was encouraged that Kadhimi’s new government is listening to the people of Iraq in their calls for reform, transform and accountability.

“So we will continue to do what we can do to support the sovereignty of Iraq, the Iraqi government and their people to make decisions that best support the people … and that democracy,” she said.

And on the economic front, US companies offer a standard of accountability and are backed by the rule of law. “There’s not the same level when you’re doing business with an Iranian company or a Chinese company and that’s fundamentally why we think supporting this democracy is so important,” Ortagus said.

Nevertheless, the Strategic Dialogue will continue and Ortagus said she hopes the coronavirus pandemic will subside so that discussions can be held in person.

“We hope to have another [dialogue session] this summer, whether it’s virtual or in-person, depending on the pandemic.”

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