Iraqi PM Set To Request Billions In Assistance

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Erica Wenig Contributor
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The Iraqi prime minister is expected to seek billions in assistance during his first official visit to the U.S. this week.

Stemming from Iraq’s $22 billion budget deficit and the ongoing struggle against the Islamic State, not only does Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi want increased support for the war against the Islamic State, he’s seeking to secure ties with the U.S.

“What he’s seeking to buy is more than arms but a relationship,” said Michael Rubin, an expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “If we say no, will Abadi go to Iran or Russia instead? And if he goes to Iran and Russia, will we have any influence remaining?”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi meets President Obama. Credit: Facebook Haider al-Abadi

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi meets President Obama. Credit: Facebook Haider al-Abadi

Abadi arrived on Monday evening, scheduled to meet with leaders from the U.S. government, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and private sector, reports the NYT.

After discussing Iraq’s situation in the Oval Office Tuesday afternoon, President Obama said fighters should respect the country’s sovereignty by reporting to Baghdad, according to Reuters. Obama also acknowledged the role Iran has played, stepping in to fight while Iraq was still preparing to face the Islamic State.

Abadi met with Vice President Biden earlier in the day, publishing a photo of the meeting on his official Facebook page. The Arabic-language caption said the two leaders were seeking to strengthen efforts to fight terrorism, train and arm Iraqi security forces liberating Iraqi land, and reconstruct liberated areas.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi meets with Vice President Joe Biden. Credit: Haider al-Abadi Facebook

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi meets with Vice President Joe Biden. Credit: Haider al-Abadi Facebook

The head of Iraq’s government since September, Abadi’s time in office follows strained relations between former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the White House over his government’s lack of inclusiveness. Maliki, a Shiite, discriminated against Sunnis, leading to feelings of disenfranchisement and some sympathy for Islamic State militancy.

Abadi, a moderate Shiite, may seek to show the Obama administration his government plans to avoid Maliki’s mistakes. The prime minister has tried to create a more inclusive government, says Rubin. But Iraq’s Sunni community has yet to solidify its leadership.

“They can’t be overcome [sectarian issues] until you have leadership in Sunni community,” said Rubin.

Iraq has largely relied on Iran-backed, Shiite militias to counter the threat of the Islamic State. Militias have perpetrated acts of sectarian violence in the wake of defeating Islamic State militants and heed ideologies oftentimes contradictory the interest of creating a safe and unified Iraq.

U.S. officials have expressed concerns Iran-controlled militias in Iraq could target American forces in the region, should Iran become angered by U.S. foreign policy.

As an array of forces, including Iraqi security forces, paramilitary Shiite militias, the Kurdish Peshmerga and U.S. airstrikes continue to oust the Islamic State from swaths of territory in Iraq, the seeming tacit cooperation between the U.S. and Iran has raised eyebrows.

In Tikrit, 100 miles north of Baghdad, the Obama administration agreed to airstrike Islamic State targets in the final days of fighting, on the condition Iran-backed militias would withdraw. The U.S. wants to avoid appearing to provide air power for militias tied to terrorist organizations.

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Erica Wenig