Biden holds talk with Iraq PM after recent violence

Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi delivers a televised speech in Baghdad, Iraq August 30, 2022.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden held a call on Wednesday with Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, after violence this week in Baghdad, the White House said.

“The President commended Prime Minister Kadhimi’s personal leadership during escalating tensions and violence over a 24-hour period earlier this week,” the White House said in a statement after their call, adding the two leaders agreed to stay in touch in the coming weeks.

Baghdad saw its worst fighting for years this week as rival Shi’ite Muslim groups battled in the capital after powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced he was leaving politics.

Sadr said his decision was prompted by the failure of other Shi’ite leaders and parties to reform Iraq’s governing system. The United States had described the unrest as disturbing.

The violence cooled after Sadr ordered his followers on Tuesday to end their protests in central Baghdad. Apologizing to Iraqis after 22 people were killed in clashes between an armed group loyal to him and rival Shi’ite Muslim factions backed by Iran, Sadr condemned the fighting and gave his own followers orders to disperse.

Biden and the Iraq prime minister “welcomed the return of security to the streets” and called on local leaders to engage in dialog in line with Iraq’s constitution, the White House said.

The recent clashes followed 10 months of political deadlock since parliamentary elections, and President Barham Salih has warned that the crisis is not over, calling for early elections.

The White House said that Biden “praised the performance of the Iraqi Security Forces and extended condolences to the families of those killed in the recent fighting.” The White House readout did not mention Sadr by name.