While Israel decides its next steps in responding to Iran’s unprecedented attack over the weekend, the White House welcomed Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. His visit took place Monday in the Oval Office, where he sat down with President Joe Biden to discuss the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Unfortunately, this invitation to Washington only rewards al-Sudani and his Iranian backers, while alienating key partners in the region.

House and Senate Republicans are not happy about the visit. In a March 28 letter to Biden, lawmakers called out the administration for inviting al-Sudani, stating that, “the Iraqi government provides some $3 billion per year to the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces militias, including four U.S.-designated terrorist groups.”

Since Oct. 7, these proxies have targeted American troops more than 165 times in retaliation for its support of Israel. One of those attacks tragically killed four U.S. servicemen and injured 40 others on the Jordanian border with Syria on Jan. 28.

With the U.S. presidential election in November, Biden will look to al-Sudani to contain Iranian-proxy attacks against U.S. troops. The problem is that al-Sudani has no control over Iran-backed factions because they don’t answer to him. They answer to Iran.

Two days after the Jan. 28 attack in Jordan that killed four U.S. troops, Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah said that it would suspend its attacks on U.S. bases “in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government.” This action was only after a visit to Baghdad by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Ismail Qaani.

While al-Sudani treads carefully to not upset his Iranian backers, the Iraqi government is doing everything it can to consolidate power over all of Iraq in Baghdad. Over the past year, the federal courts in Iraq have slowly chipped away at Kurdish political control over the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

In separate rulings, the court reduced the number of parliamentary seats for the Kurds, blocked the Kurdish export of oil via the Iraq-Turkey pipeline, and withheld public sector salaries in the north. The Iraqi Kurds are close U.S. partners that host the majority of the 2,500 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq as part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

While the Biden administration has made statements of support, Biden didn’t meet with Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the autonomous Kurdish Region, during his February visit to Washington.

The Kurds’ cooperation with the U.S. has made them a target for Iran and its proxies. In the past year, Irbil has faced a barrage of missile and drone attacks by Iranian proxies, including a ballistic missile attack in January that killed four civilians and injured six others.

The Kurds are not the only target for Baghdad. The Iraqi government has also cracked down on Christian groups. Last July, Iraq’s president effectively removed the top Christian leader in Iraq in order to hand over the church’s extensive property holdings to an Iranian-backed militia leader, one the U.S. sanctioned in 2019.

While Iran gains ground in Iraq, the Biden administration turns a blind eye because it’s desperate to keep the situation calm. Knowing this, al-Sudani was likely to drive a hard bargain in Washington. The three issues at the top of the agenda were expected to be  U.S. troop presence, U.S. basing, and U.S. sanctions.

On Feb. 2, the U.S. military carried out a series of strikes in Syria and Iraq in response to the Jan. 28 attack in Jordan, reigniting long-standing calls in Baghdad for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Characterizing the strike as a “blatant aggression” that violates Iraqi sovereignty, al-Sudani will use the visit to put pressure on the Biden administration to set a timeline for an eventual U.S. exit.  

Al-Sudani may also have asked the Biden administration to ease sanctions on blacklisted Iraqi banks. Those sanctions were triggered when 14 Iraqi banks were caught last year siphoning off U.S. currency and channeling those funds to Iran, Syria, and Russia.

Conceding to the demands would grant more financial power to Iran at a critical time in the region.

It’s clear that al-Sudani and the Iraqi government in Baghdad are not good-faith partners for the United States, but are only political puppets that sit atop an Iranian money-laundering operation.

Yet, Iraq’s entire economy is propped up by the stability of its currency being tied to the U.S. dollar. The Iraqi government has more than $100 billion in reserves in the United States from oil revenues and relies on Washington to access those funds. The U.S. also provides billions of dollars of aid: Since 2014, Congress has appropriated more than $7.7 billion to train and equip Iraqi forces and an additional $13.9 billion in foreign assistance.

Inviting al-Sudani to the White House will only spell more trouble for the Biden administration and will do nothing to address the true threat to the region—which is Iran.

The administration should focus on strengthening its partnership with the Kurds in Irbil and use its monetary leverage to punish Baghdad’s complicity in Iran’s regional pressure campaign.