In an interview for The Wall Street Journal published Sunday, his first US interview since taking office in October, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani defended the open-ended presence of US and other foreign troops in Iraq, saying his country needs them.
About 2,000 US troops are stationed in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces along with several hundred NATO troops that are also present in a non-combat role. According to the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), they ran 313 total operations against IS in Iraq and Syria in 2022, with 191 of those operations being conducted in Iraq.
Sudani believes that the US and NATO troop contingents were necessary to train and assist Iraqi soldiers in countering the Islamic State group, but mostly stay out of combat, and he supports their indefinite presence, noting that elimination of IS needs some more time, which is putting him at odds with Iranian-backed officials and also with his supporters.
The parties that back al-Sudani and control the Iraqi parliament are aligned with pro-Iranian factions that are very hostile to the US.
Baghdad also depends on Tehran for natural gas and electricity in a situation where he’s facing faces Iraqi populace hit hard by an economic crisis and eager for a better life, but al-Sudani emphasized that Iraq wants to have good relations with both Iran and the United States, believing this as possible matter.
During his visit to Tehran in late November, Sudani promised his Iranian ally’s stronger cooperation on economic and security matters but in Sunday’s interview he made clear he also wants to develop with Washington- which is locked in a confrontation with Iran- a relationship comparable to what Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil-and-gas producers enjoy.
Sometime next month, al-Sudani plans to send a high-level delegation to the United States for talks hoping they would pave the way for a future meeting with Joe President Biden.