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Biden to host Iraqi leader as Mideast tensions soar

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Washington, April 15: President Joe Biden is set to host Iraq’s leader this week for talks that come as tensions across the Middle East have soared over the war in Gaza and Iran’s unprecedented weekend attack on Israel in retaliation for an Israeli military strike against an Iranian facility in Syria.
The sharp rise in security fears has raised further questions about the viability of the two-decade American military presence in Iraq, through which portions of Iran’s Saturday drone and missile attack on Israel flew or were launched from. A US Patriot battery in Irbil, Iraq, knocked down at least one Iranian ballistic missile, according to American officials.
In addition, Iranian proxies have initiated attacks against US interests throughout the region from inside Iraq, making Monday’s meeting between Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani all the more critical. The talks will include a discussion of regional stability and future US troop deployments but will also focus on economic, trade and energy issues that have become a major priority for Iraq’s government, according to US officials.
Biden and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin are both expected to address the US troop presence in meetings with al-Sudani. “It is not the primary focus of the visit . but it is almost certainly going to come up,” one senior US official said last week.
The US and Iraq began formal talks in January about ending the coalition created to help the Iraqi government fight the Islamic State, with some 2,000 US troops remaining in the country under an agreement with Baghdad. Iraqi officials have periodically called for a withdrawal of those forces.
The two countries have a delicate relationship due in part to Iran’s considerable sway in Iraq, where a coalition of Iran-backed groups brought al-Sudani to power in October 2022. The US in recent months has urged Iraq to do more to prevent attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria that have further roiled the Middle East in the aftermath of Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel. Iran’s weekend attacks on Israel through Iraqi airspace have further underscored US concerns, although al-Sudani had already left Baghdad and was en route to Washington when the drones and missiles were launched. (AP)

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