Biden Announces ‘New Phase’ In Iraq Relations, End Of ‘Combat Operations’

File photo: US President Joe Biden speaks on the American Jobs Plan, following a tour of Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia on May 3, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

President Joe Biden opened talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi on Monday saying relations were in a “new phase” that would include the end of US combat operations in the country.

With Kadhemi at his side in the White House, Biden said that the US is “committed to our security cooperation” and will “to continue to train, to assist, to help, to deal with ISIS (Islamic State) as it arises.”

“But we’re not going to be, at the end of the year, in a combat mission,” he said.

Biden also stressed US support for elections in October in Iraq, saying Washington is working closely with Baghdad, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations to ensure the elections are fair.

Kadhemi said the US and Iraq have a “strategic partnership.”

“America, they help Iraq. Together we fight, fight and defeat ISIS,” he said.

“Today, our relation is stronger than ever — our partnership in the economy, the environment, health, education, culture and more.”

Biden is currently also overseeing the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, with the Taliban on the offensive amid fears they could even topple the Kabul government.

Political support 

Biden’s comments confirmed his readinesses to further limit US involvement in Iraq, but without removing the remaining 2,500 troops in the country, 18 years after the United States invaded to remove strongman Saddam Hussein.

The move could lend political support to Kadhemi, in power for little over a year and under pressure from Iran-allied political factions to push US troops from his country.

The two leaders’ meeting came after weeks of preparations which included discussions on support for fighting Covid-19, aiding the Iraqi private sector and cooperation on climate change.

Ahead of the meeting a senior US official who would not be identified praised Kadhemi for being pragmatic and “a problem solver rather than someone who tries to use problems for his own political interests.”

The main concern from Washington is to lend enough support to Iraqi security forces to keep up the fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group — while also keeping a damper on Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Since last year the principal role of the remaining US troops in Iraq has been to train, advise and support their Iraqi counterparts to battle Islamic State.

But Biden’s statement made clear that their involvement in actual fighting Islamic State would end.

“Iraq has requested, and we very much agree, that they need continued training, support with logistics, intelligence, advisory capacity building — all of which will continue,” the US official said.

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October elections 

File photo: US President Joe Biden holds a press conference after the US-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by PETER KLAUNZER / POOL / AFP)

 

“We support strengthening Iraq’s democracy and we’re anxious to make sure the election goes forward in October,” he said.

In the vote Kadhemi is hoping to regain ground with powerful pro-Iran political factions, which are overtly hostile to the US presence.

He was expected to persuade Washington to ease some sanctions relating to Iran, to help Iraq honor crucial transactions with its neighbor and tackle power shortages.

Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago’s Pearson Institute, said the meeting that it could be cosmetically “shaped” to help the Iraqi premier alleviate domestic pressures.

“But the reality on the ground will reflect the status quo and an enduring US presence.” said Mardini.

Remaining, however, has its risks.

“If there is no significant announcement on the withdrawal of troops, I fear that the pro-Iran groups may… increase attacks on the US forces,” Iraqi researcher Sajad Jiyad told AFP.

The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee, a group of militia factions, threatened to continue the attacks unless the United States withdraws all its forces and ends the “occupation.”

AFP

US To ‘Re-Engage’ With UN Rights Council After Trump Pullout

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

The United States said Monday it would “re-engage” with the UN Human Rights Council, nearly three years after former president Donald Trump’s administration withdrew.

President Joe Biden had instructed the US State Department “to re-engage immediately and robustly with the UN Human Rights Council”, said its new chief Antony Blinken as the council met in Geneva.

Biden’s move marks another significant reversal of his predecessor’s policies.

Trump’s administration yanked the country out of the 47-member council in June 2018. He complained about its “unrelenting bias” against Israel and the “hypocrisy” of allowing rights-abusing nations a seat at the table.

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The US departure left a void that China and others have been eager to fill at the council, created in 2006.

And the United States cannot automatically regain membership, but has to wait for elections towards the end of the year.

– Leadership vacuum –
Blinken confirmed the United States would initially be an observer at the council.

He stressed his country still regarded it as a “flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel”.

But the US withdrawal had done nothing to foster change, he noted. Instead, it had “created a vacuum of US leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.

“To address the council’s deficiencies and ensure it lives up to its mandate, the United States must be at the table using the full weight of our diplomatic leadership,” he added.

Diplomats and rights groups welcomed the announcement.

Julian Braithwaite, the British ambassador to the UN in Geneva, stressing the importance of “full engagement” by all UN members in the council.

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Jamil Dakwar, head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights programme, also hailed Washington’s new policy.

But he cautioned that “the administration’s credibility on international human rights will be judged by how close it will match its rhetoric with concrete actions to advance human rights at home and abroad.”

– Racial justice –
Dakwar called for the United States to show “robust engagement to advance racial justice and dismantle systemic racism”.

The Council debated that issue last June, without US participation, following the death of George Floyd.

Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020 after a white Minneapolis police officer — since charged with murder — pressed a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, set off a global outcry over racism and police brutality.

The Trump administration did not take part in the debate — but it was accused of pressuring participants to water down the final resolution to remove all specific mentions of the United States.

During the council’s Geneva meeting Monday, US diplomat Mark Cassayre highlighted Biden’s rights-related initiatives since coming to office — on immigration, climate change, gender equality and gay rights.

And he emphasised Biden’s promise “to make strides to end systemic racism”.

Prior to its withdrawal, the United States was seen as a champion within the council for battling a range of rights abuses around the world.

Cassayre said the United States would commit to the “urgent” work of strengthening the council and defending human rights around the globe.

“In the past few months alone, we have seen several emerging human rights challenges that deserve our immediate attention,” he added.

The rights council’s next session will starts on February 22 through to March 23. Due to the pandemic, most participation will be virtual.

AFP