Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani is “very excited” to visit the White House before the end of the year, officials close to the PM said on Friday.
Sudani met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York on Monday and received an invitation from US President Joe Biden to visit Washington. Iraq did not disclose the official date of the visit, although local media outlets said it is expected to happen before the end of 2023.
The PM’s close associates said the visit will “open the door wide for Iraq to the international community” given the Baghdad government’s isolation due to its close ties to Tehran.
Tehran, in turn, had exerted a lot of pressure on the Iraqi delegation in New York as soon as news of the invitation broke out.
Tehran won’t be the only one eager for Sudani to deliver its messages to Washington. The pro-Iran Shiite factions in Baghdad have a lot of questions and fears that need to be addressed.
Ultimately, Sudani will head to the White House with several issues raised by his allies, whom Washington disapproves of.
Iraqi officials who traveled with Sudani to New York met with the Iranian delegation that was attending the General Assembly. News of his visit to the White House overshadowed the talks with local media saying the “Iranians made a list of demands the PM should deliver to the Americans.”
Among their demands is removing American restrictions on Baghdad that are preventing it from paying financial dues to Tehran and reminding the Iraqis of the need to end American troop deployment in Iraq.
Sudani was not pleased with the way the Iranians approached him, saying the situation in Iraq “demanded a delicate approach.”
Members of the pro-Iran Coordination Framework told Asharq Al-Awsat that Sudani will be met with more pressure from Shiite factions once he returns to Baghdad as they too have their list of concerns and messages.
A leading member of the Framework said the political forces will show great support to Sudani before and during his visit to the White House because “they are in dire need of the Americans” given the dollar crisis Iraq is grappling with.
He noted, however, that not all Shiite factions will support the PM’s visit, especially the armed factions that are aligned with Iran. They will burden him with question related to the United States’ military plans regarding the border between Iraq and Syria and also over the freedom of American navigation in Iraqi skies.
In spite of the contradictions among the Shiite factions, no one wants the visit to be cancelled, rather they view it as an opportunity to remove the pressure the Baghdad government has been enduring for months and they will want to exploit it in Iran’s favor, even if it means undermining and “embarrassing” Sudani in the process.
It will be up to Sudani to strike a difficult balance between his government’s interests in the international community and between pressure from Iran and its allies. Most importantly, he will want to appear as a trustworthy man of state before the Americans, while still not making long-term commitments to them, said an Iraqi politician who works closely with the PM.