During the past 18 years, U.S.-Iraq relations have endured many difficulties. On one side, some experts believe that the United States only sees Iraq as a medium to deal with Iran. On the other side, some say that Iraq must clearly define what it wants from the U.S. Both sides tend to still see the relationship through the lens of the 2003 invasion, even though two decades have passed. The December 2021 U.S. shift from a combat mission in Iraq to an “advise, assist, and enable” mission was seen as a big victory for the Iraqi government. It begs the question, what will the new phase of the relationship look like?
Iraq’s strategic importance to the U.S. remains evident. The stability of Iraq and its relationship with the United States safeguards stability in the Gulf, ensures the flow of the global oil economy, and helps to limit tensions with Iran. However, looking beyond the security relationship lies a need to explore avenues for partnership in other areas such as economic development, environment, trade and finance, energy and education.
To this end, the Center brought together select participants from a 2013 dialogue with Americans and Iraqis to discuss where the country stands now, in light of the crises it has endured over the past decade. Discussions continued to determine what new approaches can be made to ensure a lasting strategic relationship between the U.S. and Iraq, one where interests of both sides are served. The Center held the dialogue virtually in April 2022.
Conclusions: U.S.-Iraq Relations
The bilateral relationship is rooted in a long and complex history that has been more negative than positive. To evolve the relationship, participants concurred that recognizing those complexities will be important, particularly when it comes to the next generation of Iraqis with high expectations. Yet, both parties will need to move on from that history if a mature, normalized bilateral relationship is to occur.
Expectations of both countries need to be realistically assessed and communicated. Iraqis need to understand that American attention has turned inward to address domestic issues. Furthermore, U.S. international attention has shifted away from the Middle East toward great power competition. On the other hand, Americans need to exhibit greater patience with Iraq. The nation is changing for the better, albeit slowly.
Security will always be a focal point of the relationship, but should not be the only topic for collaboration. Participants proposed greater cooperation on climate change and education exchange as avenues toward a more sophisticated relationship.