On April 13, the Atlantic Council held a discussion with Fareed Yasseen, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, in which he discussed the current state of American-Iraqi relations as well as domestic issues within Iraq.
Noting the declining U.S. military presence in Iraq, the ambassador believes his country’s forces are becoming self-sufficient. “We can contemplate…a day when they’ll be entirely capable of taking care of our security situation on their own and be a force for the stability of the region,” Yasseen said.
However, the ambassador was mostly interested in discussing non-security issues, as he hopes the Iraq-U.S. relationship can evolve to focus on topics such as the economy. “We would like to see Iraq becoming a country where American companies set up joint ventures,” he remarked, especially in “critical areas” for Iraq. These include issues of water preservation and climate change. However, such partnerships have been constrained, Yasseen continued, by the security situation in Iraq, among other issues. “The real difficulty,” he said, “has been in fostering the exchanges and meetings that can foster further cooperation.”
Despite the difficulties of Americans and Iraqis meeting fact-to-face, Yasseen is hopeful that the sort of virtual meetings that have become common during the COVID-19 pandemic can be used to overcome the obstacles to developing business relationships.
Now that Americans are able receive a visa on arrival in Iraq, Yasseen “would really like to have a direct flight from Washington, DC to Baghdad.” He added that the “business and diplomatic interests would make this commercially viable,” in addition to the “increasing number of Iraqi expatriates in the United States.”
Regarding the repatriation of Iraqi archives and cultural antiquities, “This is one area where cooperation is going very smoothly,” the ambassador noted. He complimented U.S. authorities for their help in locating and recovering smuggled artifacts and helping get them back to Iraq.
Turning to Iraq’s domestic developments, Yasseen discussed the national elections scheduled for October 2021. “Iraq is one of the very few countries in the region that has had elections every constitutionally-mandated period for more than 15 years” and has developed expertise in electoral issues, he observed. He lamented, however, that “one of the major drawbacks of the last election—the turnout was very low.” For the government to increase participation in the next elections, Yasseen continued, it needs to convince citizens that they are credible by running them professionally and bringing in impartial observers. He hopes that changes in the electoral system and candidate selection process will result in elected officials who are more responsive to their constituents.
Yasseen also discussed recent reforms undertaken by the Iraqi government, including an updated budget, devaluing the dinar, and measures to stimulate the economy as well as empower the private sector. The state “shouldn’t and can’t” find jobs for all the young people in Iraq, he argued, suggesting more focus on the private sector to reduce unemployment. The ambassador further advocated that Iraq collect more of its income from taxes on agricultural exports and less from oil. He is optimistic that efforts to open Iraq to its Arab neighbors will unlock markets for Iraqi products as well as attract foreign investments that will be “value-adding and job-creating.”
Source: Washington Report, June 8, 2021