Why a Strategic U.S.-Iraq Partnership Matters for the Iraqi People

Opinions 03:47 PM - 2024-03-18
 Alina L. Romanowski, Ambassador of the United State to Iraq.

Alina L. Romanowski, Ambassador of the United State to Iraq.

Written by Alina L. Romanowski, Ambassador of the United State to Iraq

Ramadan Kareem. I hope this opinion piece provides some ideas to consider during this month of reflection with family and friends. With the recent launch of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Military Commission, U.S. and Iraqi leaders are negotiating a transition of the International Coalition, and specifically the United States military presence, that has long supported Iraqi partners in defeating Da’esh. As Iraqis across this country’s diverse communities closely watch this important transition, many wonder what it will mean for our broader, 360-degree strategic relationship. Some even question why it is so important that our partnership remains at all. 
I understand that not all Iraqis view our relationship the same way, and disagreement over the direction of your country is natural—in fact, even the mark of a maturing democracy. To that end, the present moment brings a golden opportunity to consider what kind of long-term strategic relationship you want to build with the United States. The stakes in answering this question are high – not just for U.S.-Iraq relations, but for Iraq’s relationship with the world. 

As the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, I am honored to work each day with the Iraqi people and their representatives to present the United States’ case for a strategic partnership. Within the historic 2008 U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement that guides our relationship, I see how much Iraq has to gain from our enduring strategic partnership because I see the dividends our strong relationship is already bringing to Iraqis. Here is what I see. 

We are committed to Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty, having stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi partners to liberate Iraq from the scourge of Da’esh. As we mark the tenth anniversary of the rise of Da’esh and fifth anniversary of its territorial defeat, we should be clear-eyed about the threat it still poses to Iraq – from both Iraq and Syria. We want Iraq’s security forces to have the capability they need to meet future threats, which is why, since 2012, the U.S. Congress has appropriated more than $3.5 billion to build up Iraq’s security forces. The United States provides critical sustainment, world-class equipment like F-16 fighter jets and M1 Abrams battle tanks, and professional training that bolsters Iraqi security forces to be representative of Iraq’s diverse society, answerable to Iraq’s sovereign government, and capable of defending Iraq and its role forging stability across the Middle East. 

But we need much more than just a security relationship. We need economic, cultural, educational, and people-to-people ties that build a modern Iraq that is stable, secure, sovereign, prosperous, and connected to the world. 

The United States remains Iraq’s largest donor and supporter. Over the last 20 years, the U.S. Agency for International Development has provided Iraq more than $11 billion in development aid to improve communities. This helped Iraqis launch hundreds of new businesses, create thousands of new jobs, and build 150 new schools, 25 health care clinics, and 130 water facilities. Since 2014, we have provided more than $3.6 billion to support vulnerable displaced Iraqis and refugees with health care, medicine, safe drinking water, and better sanitation. Just since 2017, we have invested $157 million in Iraqi-led projects to help bring drinkable water to more than 12 million Iraqis. 

Thousands of Iraqis benefit from our educational and cultural exchanges. Since the start of our high school and university student exchange programs 17 years ago, more than 5,000 young Iraqis have traveled to the United States and returned to do great things for Iraq. In 2024, 400 more Iraqis will visit the United States through our exchange programs, including the prestigious Fulbright Program, the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, and the International Visitors Leadership Program. We also offer programs in Iraq – including English-language instruction, teacher training, and empowerment opportunities for job seekers, start-ups, and climate advocates. Our programs provide women and girls diverse skill-building initiatives, including earning tech-sector certifications from Microsoft and Google. Our Embassy in Baghdad and Consulate General in Erbil issue thousands of visas each year supporting the travel of Iraqis to reunite with family, enroll in university, conduct research, establish business relationships, receive medical treatment, and simply enjoy the United States. Our presence makes these connections possible. 

Trade between the United States and Iraq means American farmers produce food that feeds Iraqi families. American energy companies offer cutting-edge electrical grid technology to help pinpoint and even avoid electrical blackouts, upgrade electrical turbine efficiency while installing new generating capacity, and capture flared natural gas to produce home-grown power. American pharmaceutical companies bring Iraqis high-quality vaccines to fight sickness while others invest in Iraqi hospitals and clinics with medical equipment to save lives and modern neonatal technology to care for the youngest Iraqis. We have supported Iraq’s Central Bank as it increases the number of Iraq’s commercial correspondent banking relationships, an enormous accomplishment for Iraq in normalizing global trade relationships and safely conducting its trade in U.S. dollars. Total deposits held in Iraqi commercial banks rose by nearly 40 percent over the last two years, signaling growing consumer trust in Iraq’s banking institutions as we work together to increase transparency, root out corruption and theft, and connect Iraq’s banking sector in a competitive global economy.

To be sure, other countries are knocking at Iraq’s door and advertising alternatives to what the United States and our partners offer. But as the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, I don’t see any of them delivering to the Iraqi people as much as the United States already does every day. And none can offer Iraq an equivalent real and equal partnership that connects Iraq with the world and fosters Iraq’s prosperity. We are building bridges between the people of United States and Iraq that will last generations. 

When I speak to Iraqi young people representing this country’s changemaking future, they tell me they want more reliable services, better education, greater employment, higher quality of life, and more opportunity. Knowing everything we can accomplish together through a strong U.S.-Iraq strategic partnership, we can be part of making their dreams a reality.

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