WASHINGTON: Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein on Friday said he has come to Washington to strengthen his country’s relations with the US and discuss ways to help Iraq’s economy.
During a question-and-answer session at the United States Institute of Peace, attended by Arab News, he said his visit marks the 20th anniversary of the “transition” to democracy — a reference to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.
“Iraqi society is a free and democratic society today,” Hussein said, acknowledging however that the US and the Iraqi leaders who came to power after the invasion had committed many mistakes during the occupation, many of which still persist.
Twenty years after the invasion, Hussein said both countries enjoy a “healthy relationship” and have common issues such as climate change, fighting terrorism, and investing in Iraq’s oil and gas sectors.
He said the biggest problems facing Iraq today are its economy, which is heavily dependent on oil exports, and endemic corruption in the public sector, which has led to widespread protests in recent years. “Fighting corruption is more difficult than fighting (Daesh),” he added.
Hussein said the government is trying to diversify its economy, increase electricity supplies, and invest in agriculture and tourism.
He said its main priorities are to stabilize and modernize the economy, pass the budget, fight corruption, develop the electricity grid and “provide services to the Iraqi people.”
He added that because the economy is almost exclusively a consumption economy and must buy all of its needs from abroad using cash payments, it has created structural economic problems and spread corruption.
He said the government is seeking to turn a “cash economy” into a “digital economy” via electronic payment systems that would also reduce corruption and modernize the banking system.
Hussein said he has been holding discussions with US Treasury officials and the Federal Reserve in order to protect Iraq’s economy and currency, which has plummeted in value.
He denied allegations that there is smuggling of hundreds of millions of dollars from Iraq to cash-strapped Iran.
He said while there might be some smuggling between the two countries, Iraq imports almost everything it needs and must pay for it in dollars, hence the issue of “disappearing US dollars.”
Hussein said Iraq enjoys strong relations with neighboring Turkiye and Iran, and has always supported and encouraged talks between Tehran and Washington.
“We’re aware of the tension between Washington and Iran, but we have very strong relations with both,” he added. “We want to have good ties with Iran and Turkey.”