Lloyd Austin makes a surprise visit to Iraq for strategic talks
Dhe US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Iraq on Tuesday for a surprise visit. “I am here to reaffirm the US-Iraqi strategic partnership toward a safer, more stable, and more sovereign Iraq,” said Austin, who was the last general to command US troops after the invasion.
There are currently 2,500 US soldiers in the country Iraq, another 900 stationed in neighboring Syria. They support the local troops in the fight against the extremist organization Islamic State, which conquered territories in both Iraq and Syria in 2014. Austin is the senior US official to visit Iraq since President Joe Biden took office.
government under pressure
Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the 2003 invasion and the country was largely destabilized, leading to the rise of Islamist forces. After the US troops withdrew in 2011, the IS militia was able to significantly expand its influence.
Also foreign minister Annalena Bärbock wanted to hold talks in Iraq on Tuesday. According to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, the Green Party politician will meet Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani and her colleague Fuad Hussein in the capital, Baghdad. During the visit, Germany and Iraq wanted to strengthen their bilateral relations and discuss more intensive cooperation in the areas of energy and investment, the Baghdad officials said. The Foreign Office in Berlin initially did not want to comment on this.
After years of war against the terrorist militia “Islamic State” (IS) Iraq’s new Prime Minister Sudani is under pressure to lead his country out of a serious political and economic crisis. Around 30 percent of the people in Iraq live in poverty, and there have been repeated mass protests in the country since 2019.
In its latest country report from early March, the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation gave Sudani a mixed record after 100 days in office. “The skilful and skilful navigation (…) through the depths of Iraqi politics” stand in the way of few results of his domestic political reform course. In terms of foreign policy, Iraq is taking a neutral stance, which includes diversifying its relations and moving closer to European countries, above all Germany and France.
Large dependence on oil revenues
Prime Minister Sudani made his inaugural visit to Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) in Berlin in January, after he had formed a government in October after months of power struggles. At the time, Scholz was pushing for an energy partnership with Iraq in search of a substitute for Russian gas.
Hardly any other country is as dependent on oil revenues as Iraq. According to the International Energy Agency, the country is the fifth largest oil producer. Iraq also exports gas via an LNG terminal that opened in 2022. At the same time, the country suffers from a notoriously poor power supply with frequent outages. In addition to the poor economic situation and corruption, these are one of the reasons for the mass protests that have shaken Iraq in waves since 2019.
After Iraq abstained from the first resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the UN General Assembly in March 2022, Baghdad approved corresponding UN resolutions in October and late February.