AP Interview: Iraqi leader says country still needs US help

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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s prime minister said Monday ahead of a much anticipated trip to Washington that his country still needs U.S. assistance to counter the threat posed by the Islamic State group and that his administration is committed to introducing security sector reforms as rogue militia groups stage near-daily attacks against the seat of his government.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press that Iraq currently does not need direct military support on the ground, and that the levels of help will depend on the changing nature of the threat.

Al-Kadhimi is slated to meet with President Donald Trump in Washington this week to conclude a strategic dialogue launched in June to reconfigure U.S.-Iraq ties.

Al-Kadhimi, who is backed by the United States, assumed office in May when Baghdad’s relations with Washington were precarious. The January killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a top Iraqi militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in an American drone strike in Baghdad prompted demands by Shiite lawmakers that U.S. forces leave Iraq.

Three years since Iraq declared victory over IS, sleeper cells continue to stage attacks across the country’s north. Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out a planned drawdown this year as Iraqi security forces take the lead in combat and air raids.

“In the end, we will still need cooperation and assistance at levels that today might not require direct and military support, and support on the ground,” al-Kadhimi said. He said the cooperation “will reflect the changing nature of terrorism’s threat,” including continued training and weapons support.

Al-Kadhimi has often had to walk a tightrope amid the U.S.-Iran rivalry. Asked if he was bringing any messages from Tehran following a recent visit there, he said: “We do not play the role of postman in Iraq.”

Sworn in as premier in the wake of historic mass anti-government protests, al-Kadhimi’s administration inherited a myriad of crises. State coffers in the crude-dependent country were slashed following a severe drop in oil prices, adding to the woes of an economy already struggling with the aftershocks of the global coronavirus pandemic.