Iraqi PM heads to Washington for Biden meeting

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Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani left Baghdad on Saturday for the United States, his office said, where he will meet with the US president as regional tensions flare.

US President Joe Biden is due to receive the Iraqi leader on Monday to “coordinate on common priorities” and discuss the “evolution of the military mission” of the US-led anti-extremist coalition in Iraq and Syria, according to the White House.

The trip comes after Iran threatened to retaliate for deadly strikes, blamed on Israel, on its consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus. Biden has said he expects Tehran to take action “sooner rather than later.”

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“This official visit occurs at a delicate and sensitive time in the relations with the United States, as well as in the context of regional conditions and the ongoing crimes against innocents in the Palestinian territories,” a statement from al-Sudani’s office said.

The surging tensions come against the backdrop of the six-month war waged by Israel against Iran-backed Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza.

The conflict has since drawn in regional actors including Iran-backed groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

The “meeting with President Biden will discuss the regional issues and the current escalations, focusing on the joint efforts to promote calm and prevent the conflict from widening, which could impact global stability,” al-Sudani’s office added.

After the war in Gaza erupted, armed groups linked to Iran carried out a slew of attacks across the region on US soldiers deployed to the Middle East with the anti-extremist coalition, in support of Palestinians.

Washington has responded with several strikes on the factions.

But calm has largely returned and tensions have subsided between the United States and Iraq, which have resumed talks on the future of the anti-extremist coalition.

Iraqi authorities have voiced hope for drawing up a timeline to reduce the presence of US forces.

An aim of the talks is to establish “a timeline to end the coalition’s mission and transition to bilateral relations with the coalition member states,” al-Sudani’s office added on Saturday.

A state department official, quoted on their website, said the US hopes the talks will also “focus on energy, water, business investment - US businesses investing in Iraq - and we want to talk about the private sector and the banking reforms that we have been working on.”

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