Biden to host Iraqi leader with talks underway on winding down coalition against the Islamic State

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to host Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani next month, a visit that comes as the countries hold formal talks on ending the mission of a US-led military coalition formed to to fight the Islamic State group in Iraq.

The meeting is scheduled for April 15, the White House said Friday.

The leaders will “consult on a range of issues,” including the fight against the Islamic State and “ongoing Iraqi financial reforms to promote economic development and progress toward Iraq’s financial independence and modernization,” the White House said.

The two countries have a delicate relationship, partly due to Iran’s significant influence in Iraq, where a coalition of Iranian-backed groups brought al-Sudani to power in October 2022.

The US has in recent months urged Iraq to do more to prevent attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria, which have further roiled the Middle East in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel. There is also an attempt to put financial pressure on Baghdad’s relationship with Tehran, by restricting Iraq’s access to its own dollars in an effort to stamp out money laundering, which is said to benefit Iran and Syria.

The US and Iraq began formal talks in January on ending the coalition created to help the Iraqi government fight Islamic State, while some 2,000 US troops remained in the country under an agreement with Baghdad. Iraqi officials have periodically called for those troops to be withdrawn.

The visit will also come about a year after the kidnapping in Baghdad of Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli-Russian academic at Princeton University, who is believed to be being held by an Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, which Washington considers a terrorist group . and is considered one of the most powerful armed groups in Iraq. It was formed during the power vacuum that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, with support from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On Thursday, Tsurkov’s sister Emma urged the State Department to declare Iraq a state sponsor of terrorism and called on the White House to make the al-Sudani meeting conditional on arranging the release of her sister by the Prime Minister – something she said. he was authorized to do so.

“I am shocked that Sudan is allowed to shake President Biden’s hand while his other hand holds the keys to my sister’s shackles,” Tsurkov said at an event outside the Iraqi embassy in Washington.