United States

Biden To Host Iraqi Leader With Talks Underway On Winding Down Coalition Against The Islamic State

The talks come amid US-Iraqi negotiations on troops withdrawal and heightened tensions over regional security and financial independence.

Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani attends a ceremony in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: AP

President Joe Biden plans to host Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani next month, a visit that comes as the countries hold formal talks about winding down the mission of a US-led military coalition that was formed to fight the Islamic State group in Iraq.

The meeting is scheduled for April 15, the White House said Friday.

The leaders will “consult on a range of issues,” including the fight against the Islamic State and “ongoing Iraqi financial reforms to promote economic development and progress toward Iraq's financial independence and modernisation,” the White House said.

The two countries have a delicate relationship due in part to Iran's considerable sway in Iraq, where a coalition of Iran-backed groups brought al-Sudani to power in October 2022.

The U.S. in recent months has urged Iraq to do more to prevent attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria that have further roiled the Middle East in the aftermath of Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel. It's also sought to apply financial pressure over Baghdad's relationship with Tehran, restricting Iraq's access to its own dollars in an effort to stamp out money laundering said to benefit Iran and Syria.

The US and Iraq, meanwhile, began formal talks in January about ending the coalition created to help the Iraqi government fight the Islamic State, with some 2,000 US troops remaining in the country under an agreement with Baghdad. Iraqi officials have periodically called for a withdrawal of those forces.

The visit will also come about a year after the kidnapping in Baghdad of Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli-Russian academic at Princeton University who is believed to be held by an Iran-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, that is regarded by Washington as a terrorist group and is seen as one of the most powerful armed groups in Iraq. It was formed during the power vacuum that followed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, with support from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On Thursday, Tsurkov's sister, Emma, urged the State Department to declare Iraq a state sponsor of terrorism and called on the White House to make the al-Sudani meeting contingent on the prime minister arranging for the release of her sister — something she said that he was empowered to do.

“I am appalled that Sudani will be allowed to shake President Biden's hand while his other hand holds the keys to my sister's shackles,” Tsurkov said at an event outside the Iraqi Embassy in Washington.