Baghdad looks to Trump with framework agreement

Following the victory by US President-elect Donald Trump, Iraq seeks to strengthen cooperation with the United States through the full implementation of the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement.

al-monitor US President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak during a USA Thank You Tour event at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Dec. 15, 2016.  Photo by REUTERS/Lucas Jackson.

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us-iraqi relations, strategic framework agreement, saddam hussein, reconstruction, investment, is, donald trump, barack obama

Dec 19, 2016

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced Dec. 2 the formation of a high-level committee to start implementing the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA). This reflects Iraq’s readiness for the era of US President-elect Donald Trump and to invest in the change of the US administration to garner support for its war on terror and for the reconstruction process.

The agreement, which was signed by both the United States and Iraq in 2008, affirmed political, diplomatic, defense, security and cultural cooperation in the fields of the economy, energy, health, technology and judiciary. However, Ahmed Jamal, the spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, told Al-Monitor, “What has been achieved is merely limited to some security areas and the war on terror.”

He said, “The non-implementation of the agreement items falls mostly on the Iraqi side, especially in terms of technological, cultural, security, health and trade cooperation. This is due to the fact that the Iraqi ministries lack the plans and programs to implement cooperation and coordination with the American side, which prompted Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to work on the formation of a committee under his chairmanship in November 2016 — dubbed the SFA Implementation Committee. Said committee includes many ministries’ undersecretaries as members.”

Jamal added, “The committee held a meeting last month and will continue to do so in order to prepare drafts for the plans that are being discussed with the Americans, to be converted into formal agreements that will be implemented within specific time frames.”

He also noted, “The Iraqi Foreign Ministry will work on starting coordination with the US State Department,” stressing that “Iraq expects Trump’s administration to attach great importance to supporting Iraq in the war on terrorism — namely in terms of armament — and to provide Iraq with US experience in the reconstruction of war-affected areas.”

The last US troops withdrew officially from Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011, marking the end of about nine years of US military intervention, which led to the fall of Saddam Hussein and the death of roughly 4,500 American soldiers. After the Sept. 20 meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and US President Barack Obama, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Iraq seems to be back on Washington’s list of priorities. Obama stressed the “US willingness to provide humanitarian aid and start reconstruction of the liberated areas [of Iraq].”

Indeed, the United States has shown clear renewed interest in Iraq, as the number of US troops stationed in the country has increased to 4,087 soldiers, excluding the special operations staff and some logistics support workers who work in rotation.

In this context, Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesman of Abadi's information office, told Al-Monitor, “Iraq aspires to more US support. It also seeks to strengthen cooperation through the implementation of the SFA to diversify Iraq’s benefits in more than one area. The cooperation and coordination under Obama did not live up to Iraq's hopes.”

Hadithi said, “The government is seeking to reinstate some of the SFA items that have remained a dead letter because of the lack of enforcement and implementation mechanisms. The agreement includes economic, security, cultural and military aspects, and its implementation will benefit Iraq. Iraqi ministries ought to start drafting plans to begin the implementation under the newly elected US president.”

In fact, Iraq needs to reach a “national consensus” about the type of relations to entertain with the United States, taking into account the interests of both countries. This is especially true since some Iraqi parties in the government remain against cementing relations and cooperation with the United States.

If Iraq is seeking to take advantage of the United States in terms of security development, economic potential and the political support of Washington, it has to acknowledge and accept US interests in the region. In this regard, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Dec. 4 that Iraq has to allow an American presence in the country after the expulsion of the Islamic State (IS) from Iraqi territories.

However, in a press statement Dec. 6, Hadithi replied to Carter’s statements, saying, “The future of the relations between Iraq and the countries of the international coalition to fight against IS will be determined by Abadi in accordance with his powers” — i.e., this would not contribute to building a strategic alliance with the United States.

In this context, political analyst Mahmoud al-Hashimi told Al-Monitor that Hadithi’s statement reflects "the weakness of the Iraqi government in the face of Iran, which does not want an American presence in Iraq."

Hashimi added, “The Iraqi government ought to know how to benefit from Trump’s administration, as the president-elect is employing a strategy to deal with central countries in the world to control chaos and diasporas in the Middle East. I believe this is in the interest of Iraq and its fight against armed groups and forces that seek division.”

The United States is a great world power that played a pivotal role in the history of Iraq, driving out Saddam’s troops from Kuwait by military force in 1990, and ousting Saddam in 2003 and contributing to the establishment of a democratic system. It would serve the Iraqi government greatly to have the United States as its strategic ally, in light of the challenges in the fight against terrorism sweeping the world and Iraq’s dire need for investments and contributions to the reconstruction process by US companies. 

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