'Iranian Appeasement': Biden and Harris Decline White House Meeting With Kurdish Leader

Iraq's Kurdish region has served as bulwark against Iranian efforts to infiltrate Iraq

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
February 28, 2024

The president and vice president both declined face-to-face meetings this week with the prime minister of Iraq's Kurdish region, Masrour Barzani, a U.S. ally who has served as a bulwark against Iranian efforts to infiltrate Iraq, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Barzani is in Washington, D.C., this week for a series of high-level meetings with U.S. officials at a time when Iranian terrorist proxies are running rampant across Iraq and launching attacks on American positions there. Iraq's Kurdish region, which operates semiautonomously from the central government in Baghdad, has remained a steadfast U.S. ally as the United States works to beat back Iran's growing foothold in the country.

A meeting with either President Joe Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris would have signaled U.S. support for the Kurds as they face a financial crunch sparked by the Baghdad government's decision to choke off their oil revenues. Baghdad's government has become increasingly close to Iran, and the lost revenue from oil sales is jeopardizing stability in the Kurdistan region.

Sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon, including former U.S. officials, expressed concern that neither Biden nor Harris would take the time to meet with Barzani, particularly as Iran funds a multi-pronged war against Israel and increasingly deadly attacks on American forces in the region.

It is expected that Barzani will have a sit-down with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, but Kurdish representatives were lobbying hard for a face-to-face with Biden or Harris, sources said. The White House has already committed to hosting a meeting between Biden and Iraqi prime minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, further underscoring tensions between Iraq's ruling parties.

Kurdish officials told the White House that a high-profile meeting would send a meaningful signal at a time when U.S. forces are being attacked by Iran-backed militias in Iraq, and Tehran is positioning itself as a key ally of Baghdad's government, according to a source familiar with the behind-the-scenes wrangling.

Barzani met earlier in the week with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who pressed the Kurdish leader to work more closely with Iraq's government to quash tensions. The U.S. National Security Council did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment on the situation.

"The White House refuses to meet with U.S. friends and partners from Kurdistan but happily invites an Iraqi prime minister to the Oval Office after he was appointed by Iran-backed terrorists and did not stop 180 attacks against our forces," said Michael Knights, a regional expert with the Washington Institute think tank. "It looks to many as if the United States cannot tell friends from enemies, nor up from down, in the Middle East."

Republican foreign policy leaders have repeatedly warned that Iraq is "on the verge of being lost to Iran" as the Islamic Republic arms militant factions across the country and works to isolate Barzani and the pro-U.S. Kurdish population.

One former U.S. official told the Free Beacon that the White House's position on a Barzani meeting is tantamount to "Iranian appeasement."

"It is quite telling that the White House refuses to meet with the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq—America's most loyal and steadfast partner who has fought with America for over 30 years, including in the defeat of ISIS, and the only part of Iraq that has U.S. government financing for energy projects," said the source, who would speak only on background. "This is Iranian appeasement at the White House."