US President Donald Trump has met his Iraqi counterpart in Washington, D.C., praising the “unprecedented cooperation” between the two countries in ridding Iraq of ISIS and reaffirming the US’ commitment to bolstering the country’s security.
Trump met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House Monday, with both leaders praising the partnership that has seen significant gains in retaking territory, including progress in liberating Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which has been under militant control for three years.
“The two leaders agreed that the United States and Iraq will pursue a long-term partnership to decisively root out terrorism from Iraq and strengthen the Iraqi military and other key institutions,” a White House readout from the talks said.
The two leaders agreed to promote a “broad-based political and economic partnership based in the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA),” the bilateral agreement which has been the cornerstone of US support of Iraq since 2008.
Abadi: ISIS a priority
Prior to the trip, Abadi said Iraqi forces were close to ridding the country of ISIS and that he would talk to the US administration about the final steps needed.
“We are in the last chapter, the final stages to eliminate ISIS militarily in Iraq,” he said in a video statement.
Abadi said he hoped the US and other allies would continue to offer economic assistance to Iraq, which he said faced a financial crisis as a result of the war against the militant group.
Trump last week proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending.
If approved by Congress, more than $3 billion of the additional money would be allocated to the fight against ISIS, including $2 billion for a flexible fund that would allow the Pentagon to decide how to utilize resources in support of the new counter-ISIS strategy.
Speaking at a United States Institute for Peace (USIP) event Monday, Abadi said that he felt that the Trump administration wants to be “more engaged in fighting terrorism.”
However, he admitted that he wasn’t up to date on Trump’s plan to combat the ISIS threat.
“I haven’t seen a full plan. I know there is a plan, I haven’t seen it. We have our own plan. But we need to have a plan together, the region must have a plan to wipe out terrorism” he said.
Travel ban controversy
It is not clear from the official readout if the two leaders discussed Trump’s controversial travel ban, which seeks to ban travelers from six Muslim-majority countries from visiting the US.
The Iraqi government objected after its citizens were included on the first iteration of the executive order, which was struck down by an appeal court.
Iraq was removed from the revised version of the order following intensive lobbying from Baghdad at the highest levels, a senior US official told CNN.
The pressure from the Iraqi officials included a phone call between Trump and Abadi on February 10 and an in-person conversation between Abadi and Vice President Mike Pence in Munich on February 18.
In the two leaders’ meeting, Trump criticized his predecessor’s policies in the region. He queried “why President Obama signed that agreement with Iran, because nobody’s been able to figure that one out,” referencing the Iran nuclear deal.
He praised the Iraqi military’s advances in Mosul but added further criticism of both the Bush invasion of Iraq and Obama’s troop drawdown.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t have gone in (to Iraq) and… certainly we should never, ever have left and the vacuum was created and we discussed what happened,” he said.
“We will figure something out. Our main thrust is we have get rid of ISIS, it’s happening — it’s happening right now.”