US ‘not going anywhere,’ vows to remain engaged in Middle East

“We’re concerned with the deepening Russia-Iran alliance, as evidenced by recent deliveries of Iranian UAVs that Russia has used to destroy civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” the US diplomat said.

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A senior US diplomat said Tuesday that Washington was not disengaging from the Middle East, refusing to leave a vacuum for Beijing, Moscow or Tehran to exploit.

“We will not walk away from the Middle East and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran. America’s interests are interwoven with the successes of the Middle East,” said Jen Gavito, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq, Iran, and Public Diplomacy.

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Speaking at an event on Iraq at the Atlantic Council, Gavito said the US understands that Iran is “a very important partner” for Baghdad.

“But they should be positive in both directions. Persistent threats and attacks from Iran-aligned militia groups undermine Iraqi sovereignty and erode public trust in the government,” she added.

Pro-Iran militias can’t claim to be part of the security apparatuses in Iraq and be unfettered by the state’s authority and chain of command, Gavito said. “They’re either in, or they’re out.”

Iran has promised to expel US forces and diplomats from Iraq and the region. They have also, directly and indirectly, attacked American troops in Iraq and elsewhere.

But Gavito doubled down on previous commitments by US President Joe Biden to deter and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.

She also touched on the ongoing anti-government protests across Iran, which were sparked by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

“We will always stand with the Iranian people striving for the basic rights and dignity long denied them by the regime in Tehran,” Gavito said.

Iran-Russia alliance, China

Turning to the Russian war on Ukraine, Gavito lamented Tehran’s military support for Moscow and commended Iraq’s vote at the United Nations to condemn Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories.

“We’re concerned with the deepening Russia-Iran alliance, as evidenced by recent deliveries of Iranian UAVs that Russia has used to destroy civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” the US diplomat said.

As for China and its bid to exert influence in the Middle East, Gavito warned that Beijing was seeking to remake the international order and its “profoundly illiberal” image.

Nevertheless, the US understands that Iraq could look to advance its development goals with China. “However, we encourage Iraq to do so with its eyes wide open,” she said, pointing to economic arrangements with China that only benefit Beijing.

Another reason Iraq should be cautious, according to Gavito, is that China has made little to no contributions to the fight against ISIS as the terrorist group continues to try to revive itself.

As Russia, China and Iran seek to exploit Iraq's political, religious and ethnic divisions, Washington remains committed to Baghdad.

“I am here to tell you that we are not going anywhere. It is in our interest to work with the Iraqi people to confront these shared challenges I’ve described,” Gavito said.

Read more: US military unit that built bases in Middle East shuts down: Pentagon

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