Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi explained his vision in a lengthy interview Thursday, after his [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] . It appears that he and Trump are comfortable at the present time with a military relationship in which several thousand American forces remain in Iraq to train local forces, without any timetable so far for their withdrawal.
Given the United States' history of military expansion in Iraq, followed by a hasty retreat, this approach is a welcome change. It is clear that the combat role of the United States there is over, but it appears that limited military support will continue and that is the right balance. Despite all of Trump's previous speeches about Iraq, he was surprisingly friendly in his meeting with Al-Kazemi, describing him as a "very respectable gentleman" and describing the relationship between the United States and Iraq as "very good."
From a meeting with Trump and Kazemi at the White House
The newspaper adds that Al-Kazemi was an interesting new face in the region, as he was the head of intelligence and then became interim prime minister in May, after months of anti-corruption protests by Iraqi youths that paralyzed the country. Al-Kazemi has courageously taken an independent path, distanced himself a little from Iran and joined a protest movement, as in Lebanon, that wants to eliminate corrupt political warlords.
“We don't need American combat forces in Iraq,” Al-Kazemi said, now that ISIS is defeated. "We need American forces that focus on training and capacity building." He added that former Iraqi leaders were "shy" about recognizing military support from the United States, "We believe that this relationship is not a cause for embarrassment," adding, "It is something we should be proud of."
Al-Kazemi said that some difficult questions remain unresolved, including the United States' use of Iraqi airspace and the "road map" for the redeployment of American forces. These issues will be addressed in a joint "strategic dialogue" between the two countries.
According to the newspaper, Iraq is a bright spot for the rivalry between the United States and Iran. Al-Kazemi revealed his dealings with Tehran, and the Iraqi leader said that he told Iranian leaders during a visit last month that Tehran should establish "state-to-state" relations, rather than working with individual militia leaders who might undermine Baghdad's authority.
Al-Kazemi also seeks to improve relations with Saudi Arabia. He said that he discussed Saudi-Iraqi coordination on oil and economic policy with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a phone call on Wednesday, one day before his meeting with Trump.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Part of Al-Kazemi's meeting with US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi
The newspaper notes that the most difficult challenge that Al-Kazemi faces is controlling the Iranian-backed Shiite militias that threaten to become a state within a state - in the same way that Hezbollah operates in Lebanon. Al-Kazemi explained, "These militias feel that their legitimacy stems from the American presence in Iraq." But he warned, "This does not give [the militias] the right to attack [US] forces in Iraq." Stressing that the state must monopolize arms. He added that "any organization that possesses weapons outside the country is considered outside the law."
In defiance of Iranian-backed militias, Al-Kazemi takes a bold move, and the risks surfaced last month when Hisham Al-Hashemi, a security expert who advised the Al-Kazemi government, was killed in Baghdad. Al-Kazemi blamed "outlaw groups" and pledged: "We will not allow assassinations to return to Iraq for one second."
Iraqi parliamentary elections are scheduled for June. Al-Kazemi assumed his position as a transitional prime minister, without a strong sectarian or party base. He has a chance to hold on to power if he can harness the political energy of young street protesters, who are tired of traditional parties and politicians.Al-Kazemi talks about a European-like future for his region, with freer flows of capital and technology. Next week, he plans to meet with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan in Amman, Jordan, to discuss this approach, and he will soon travel to Saudi Arabia. When asked about the recent normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, Al-Kazemi said an accurate answer: "This is an Emirati decision, and we should not interfere."
Asked about his agenda, Al-Kazemi listed a series of initiatives dealing with public health and the economy. But he said that in order to make progress in every area, "the most important issue is corruption." Sadly, such reforms are rarely successful in the modern Middle East. But in Iraq and across the region, public anger at politicians is growing as usual.