The United States said it will further reduce its troop levels in Iraq as American diplomats and their Iraqi counterparts continue a round of dialogue initiated yesterday over the future of the countries’ relationship.
“The two countries recognized that in light of significant progress towards eliminating the [Islamic State] threat, over the coming months the US would continue reducing forces from Iraq and discuss with the Government of Iraq the status of remaining forces,” the two sides said in a joint statement.
Some 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq as part of the US-led military coalition against the Islamic State, which seized swaths of the country’s northwest in a lightning offensive in 2014, prompting international intervention. Iraq declared victory over IS in late 2017.
American and Iraqi diplomats initiated a round of strategic negotiations on Thursday, with the Iraqi side promising to protect US and international coalition forces in the country — a reference to a string of attacks over the past year by Iran-linked militias under the al-Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella on coalition positions at Iraqi bases. The attacks brought the United States and Iran to the brink of open conflict in Iraq earlier this year and hastened the coalition’s consolidation into three larger, more fortified bases in Iraq.
Why it matters: If fulfilled, the trust-building measure may help reduce political pressure on Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi, who faces the difficult task of balancing pro-Hashd opposition to Washington’s military presence in Iraq while also ensuring the Islamic State does not stage a comeback.
The United States said it has already withdrawn some troops from Iraq amid the coronavirus pandemic and consolidation at larger bases. Several coalition nations have also pulled troops. US, Iraqi and NATO officials have discussed the possibility of expanding NATO’s separate, smaller training and stability mission in Iraq to help offset future coalition withdrawals.
What’s next: The United States is seeking to broaden its relationship with Iraq, which is currently weighted toward security and counterterrorism support. The US-led coalition has signaled that Iraq’s security situation appears ready for the coalition to transition from tactical training and accompaniment on ground operations against IS to mentoring and coaching at the command level.
On Thursday, US and Iraqi officials also discussed plans to return the Baath Party archives, currently housed at Stanford University, to Iraq. The two sides, led by Iraq’s top Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Abdul-Karim Hashim Mostafa and by US State Department Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, plan to meet again in July.
Know more: Ali Mamouri looks at reactions to the latest round of US-Iraqi dialogue from across Iraq’s political spectrum.