Iraq and Russia Discussed US Foreign Policy Failure in the Middle East*

*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

Baghdad chose to pursue a multi-directional foreign policy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani in Moscow. This visit is rather significant since foreign guests of this rank don’t visit Russia very often now. However, Sudani’s visit also coincided with the war between Israel and Gaza. As such, both leaders expressed how the two countries feel about this war.

The Russian president announced Sudani’s visit at a recent Valdai Club meeting. At the meeting, Putin said that he would not only discuss bilateral relations with Sudani but also address the issues of regional stability and security.

The situation in Iraq remains difficult now. Its economy is in poor shape. At the same time, the dispute between the central government and Iraqi Kurdistan has not been resolved. There are disagreements over the country’s budget, the limits of Kurdistan’s autonomy and the distribution of oil revenues. In February, Iraq’s Supreme Court stripped Iraqi Kurdistan of its right to export oil independently. This caused a serious crisis in Kurdistan, which was previously considered the most economically prosperous part of the country. In September, clashes between Kurds and Arabs erupted in the city of Kirkuk, a town disputed between Iraqi Kurdistan and the central government.

The situation is also exacerbated by the worsening relations between Baghdad and Washington. Iraq’s leaders have expressed frustration with the fact that the U.S. military remaining in the country have not gotten rid of offensive weapons. The U.S., on the other hand, does not approve of pro-Iranian forces’ activity in Iraq. Coincidentally, an Iraqi Shia militia closely linked to Iran is suspected of kidnapping Elizabeth Tsurkov, a dual Russian-Israeli citizen, in July. She traveled to Baghdad on a Russian passport as part of her work on her dissertation at Princeton University and disappeared. The Al-Monitor website claims that the Israeli government is trying to secure her release through contacts with Russian authorities.

Thus, the first meeting between Putin and Sudani, the current Iraqi prime minister, who has been in office for about a year, is taking place during a time when Iraq is facing a few major issues. This was bound to have an impact on the economic relations between the two countries. “Trade turnover was up 43% last year, but unfortunately it’s down this year. Thus, there is a lot to talk about, in this sense Iraqi prime minister’s visit is very timely,” Putin said. At the same time, both countries emphasized the importance of cooperation in the oil market, both on a bilateral basis and within the framework of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Putin named the energy sector as a key focus of cooperation between Russia and Iraq. Both leaders will participate in Russian Energy Week, a networking event for global energy experts.

However, in their statements, both Putin and Sudani expressed their positions on the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“I believe many will agree with me that this conflict is a direct result of a failed policy of the United States, which tried to monopolize the resolution process in the Middle East, but unfortunately was not concerned with finding compromises acceptable to both sides, instead it was promoting its own ideas of how it should be implemented, putting pressure on both sides,” Putin stated. He mentioned “the need to implement the U.N. Security Council decisions regarding the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.” In addition, Putin and Sudani called on both sides of the conflict to minimize damage to civilians.

“Dangerous events are unfolding in Palestine. This is a natural outcome of Israel’s actions, which continued to violate Palestinian rights,” Sudani emphasized. He spoke out against the blockade of the Gaza Strip and in favor of a peaceful resolution of all conflicts, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There is nothing surprising in Iraq’s desire to adopt a multi-vector foreign policy to find compromises with other countries. Thus, Baghdad maintains relations with both the U.S. and Iran. Russia’s involvement will only benefit Iraq,” explained Kirill Semenov, a non-resident expert at the Russian International Affairs Council.

In his interview, Semenov emphasized that the attitude toward Russia is no longer as negative as it used to be. This is proved, among other things, by the recent visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is, after all, the head of Turkey, a NATO member state. Western countries have failed to isolate Russia, something that the recent negotiations in Moscow once again demonstrated.

“It is unlikely that any breakthrough decisions will be made during Sudani’s visit. However, it is of great importance that the two countries will discuss cooperation within the framework of OPEC+ and collaboration in the defense and tech sectors. Russia must have the capacity to maintain its own military equipment and weapons as well as to prevent them from reaching Ukraine through American channels,” Semenov concluded.

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