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More US troops to leave Iraq say US and Iraq in joint statement

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division conduct air assault training with their Iraqi partners in Mosul, Iraq. (Maj. Vonnie Wright/U.S. Army)
June 12, 2020

The State Department announced Thursday the U.S. would reduce its troop presence in Iraq.

The State Department and Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the announcement in a joint statement. the announced the U.S. would reduce its troop presence “in the coming months” and discuss the status of whatever U.S. troops may remain.

“On the security partnership, the two countries recognized that in light of significant progress towards eliminating the ISIS threat, over the coming months the U.S. would continue reducing forces from Iraq and discuss with the Government of Iraq the status of remaining forces as both countries turn their focus towards developing a bilateral security relationship based on strong mutual interests,” the statement read.

The statement did not provide a specific figure for the number of troops that be pulled from the country and what troops may remain following the initial “months” of reduction.

“The United States reiterated that it does not seek nor request permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq, as previously agreed to in the 2008 SFA which provides for security cooperation to be undertaken on the basis of mutual agreement,” the statement continued. “The Government of Iraq committed to protecting the military personnel of the International Coalition and the Iraqi facilities hosting them consistent with international law and the specific arrangements for their presence as will be decided upon by the two countries.”

Since 2014, the primary mission of U.S. troops in Iraq, under Operation Inherent Resolve, has been to counter the Islamic State terror group, known as ISIS. In March 2019, White House officials announced the fall of one of the terror group’s final remaining strongholds in the Syrian city of Baghouz. Despite the group’s territorial defeat, concerns have persisted about a potential resurgence.

Kurdish and Western intelligence officials have reported ISIS had dug into the Hamrin Mountains of northern Iraq and Lahur Talabany, a Kurdish counter-terrorism official, said in December that the group could be difficult to flush out from their mountain strongholds “like Al Qaeda on steroids.”

According to Reuters, officials in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq now believe Iraqi forces can mostly handle the insurgents on their own.

Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has indicated since May that he would seek new diplomatic and strategic talks with the U.S. 

The continued U.S. presence in Iraq had reached a particularly contentious point in January after U.S. strikes on pro-Iranian Iraqi militias and an airstrike that killed Iranian Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. Members of Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution to expel U.S. troops from the country. U.S. troops have been drawing down slowly but still maintain a noticeable presence in the country.

There are currently around 5,000 U.S. troops in the country, and around 2,500 additional coalition forces from other countries.

Reuters reported U.S. and other western military trainers will likely remain in Iraq.

The joint statement said the U.S. would continue to provide economic advisors for Iraq, and potential investment by U.S. energy firms and other business sectors.