A top Iraqi delegation in Washington is expected to reach an agreement with the Biden administration Friday on the withdrawal of American combat forces in Iraq, Fuad Hussein, the Iraqi foreign minister, told VOA.
Hussein, whom U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host on Friday, sat down with VOA Kurdish Service's Motabar Shirwani in an exclusive interview Thursday to discuss the nature of cooperation between his country and the U.S. forces after the agreement, particularly in the fight against the Islamic State group.
According to a statement last week from the White House, President Biden will host Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday to discuss a wide array of topics including cooperation on political, economic, security and cultural issues.
The following are excerpts from the interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: The visit of a top Iraqi government delegation to Washington comes at a pivotal point in the U.S.-Iraq relationship. In your conversations with Secretary Blinken on Friday, what will be the key areas of interest to your delegation?
Fuad Hussein: Obviously, this is not a new discussion, but it is possible to be the last time to have it this way. The discussions will be on a range of issues including oil, energy, electricity, gas, culture, health, military and security, and finance.
VOA: Considering the threat of the Islamic State group, maintaining security remains one of the key challenges facing your government. How do you expect the U.S. government to help Iraq in this sector?
Hussein: Naturally, the security and military sector will be an important subject in the conversation. America and Iraq have been allies and will remain allies against IS. What was called the Islamic State, or IS, has been destroyed and has since turned from an organization owning a state into a terrorist organization. Assistance against IS will remain.
In this meeting, we will discuss that American fighting forces are not necessary in Iraq at this stage. In my opinion, we will reach the agreement on Friday and then it will be announced that (American) fighting forces — I am talking about the fighting forces — will not remain in Iraq. But how they will not remain and when they exit is related to a timeline agreed on by both sides as well as technical matters and other issues related to the security of the forces.
VOA: The U.S. is expected to withdraw all its forces (from Afghanistan) by the end of August, and there is already concern about the Taliban's growing violence in the country. Are you concerned that Iraq will face a similar fate with its militant groups after the withdrawal of U.S. forces?
Hussein: Iraq's situation is different from Afghanistan's. Nevertheless, we are closely following what has happened in Afghanistan and will discuss it thoroughly with the Americans. We want to reach an agreement that guarantees security in Iraq (with support from) the governments of other states because Iraq cannot stand alone against internal issues. Security issues are particularly challenging.
Iraq needs information on terrorists. This is something that the U.S. and other countries can help us with because the organization of IS terrorists is global, not local. This means that the relationship will continue on this ground. The Iraqi military forces need training and arming. Of course, the Americans have been in Iraq since 2003 and have helped the Iraqi forces. Therefore, there is a need for us to reach an agreement on how to train and arm the Iraqi military forces. When I talk about the Iraqi military and security forces, I mean all segments of it and the air force. It is known that the Iraqi air force is either weak or nonexistent. Standing against IS and hurting it requires aerial power, and the U.S. can help the Iraqi forces in this area. This means that we will reach an agreement in which the Americans will remain but not as a fighting force.
VOA: In the past months, several American military and diplomatic installations have come under attack from militants allegedly tied to Iran. Will Iran's proxy threat be a topic of discussion between President Biden and Prime Minister Kadhimi next week?
Hussein: I do not know who did these attacks, but we condemn them. There are investigations on these attacks which are, of course, terrorist acts on Irbil airport, Baghdad airport and the Green Zone. They are a part of the discussion, and they have always been a part of the discussions in Baghdad and here also. We hope these attacks will stop; otherwise, it will be dangerous not only for our international security but also for the region.
We are working hard to push tensions between other countries away from Iraqi soil. We do not want to be a part of the conflict between other countries. We are discussing this not only with the United States but also with Iran. We have good relations with the Iranian government and are open in our discussions with them. We are asking for support and help from various countries, including from the United States and the neighboring countries. Iraq is indeed in need of support from the regional countries. The conflict in the region affects the Iraqi society directly. In fact, the conflict in Iraq also has regional dimensions. That is why we are trying to bring regional powers together and we were mediating between them, because when there is stability in the region, it will reflect on the Iraqi internal situation. At the same time, a part of the conflict in the Iraqi society has to do with this regional conflict.