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US army presence in highlight after Baghdad assembly

There was some confusion Thursday about attainable plans by the US-led army coalition towards the Islamic State to withdraw extra forces from Iraq.

Brett McGurk, the White Home’s coordinator for Center East coverage, met Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who heads to Washington later this month. Kadhimi’s workplace mentioned in a press release that they mentioned “mechanisms for withdrawing fight forces from Iraq and transferring to a brand new section of strategic cooperation” between their nations.

BBC reporter Nafiseh Kohnavard cited nameless Iraqi officers as saying McGurk relayed a message “that US troops would withdraw from Iraq” in a step-by-step course of in accordance with a timeline to be decided throughout Kadhimi’s go to to Washington.

However two US officers talking on situation of anonymity denied the report, citing no change in US coverage. A 3rd official, additionally talking not for attribution, mentioned McGurk’s feedback to Kadhimi could have been misconstrued.

However the denials rang as a attainable distinction with out a distinction, because the eventual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has been a topic of recurrent discussions between the 2 governments.

Some 2,500 US troops — largely army advisers and brigade safety groups — stay within the nation within the wake of the conflict towards the Islamic State. Some 900 others stay in Syria as a part of the identical mission, in accordance with the Pentagon’s public statements.

The US-led coalition considerably decreased its footprint in Iraq final 12 months, handing over eight bases to the Iraqi army and consolidating at websites in Baghdad, Erbil and Anbar province after withdrawing a couple of thousand troops.

Additional changes to the US army presence in Iraq are prone to be on the desk within the coming months, however a full withdrawal shouldn’t be anticipated, a fourth US official instructed Al-Monitor on situation of anonymity. “It received’t be something like Afghanistan,” mentioned the supply, referring to the hasty US and NATO departure from that nation as Taliban fighters violently advance.

The protection official instructed Al-Monitor that the US-led coalition has not been given orders to attract down its presence in Iraq as of Thursday.

Final 12 months’s consolidation didn’t cease suspected pro-Iran militias from persevering with to launch rocket barrages and, extra just lately, drone assaults towards bases utilized by American personnel. Retaliatory US airstrikes, which the Biden administration has billed as “defensive,” have additionally failed to discourage the assaults.

The off-and-on combating has reignited debate in Congress over the president’s conflict authorities.

Kadhimi is below important stress from pro-Iran factions and militias, many backed by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to expel the remaining American troops.

Iraq’s parliament final 12 months handed a nonbinding decision to oust the US army from the nation. That vote got here after the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Pressure, in Baghdad on orders from President Donald Trump. The de facto head of Iraq’s Widespread Mobilization Models, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and different personnel had been additionally killed within the strike.

Following the earlier spherical of talks with Kadhimi’s authorities in April, the 2 sides launched a joint assertion acknowledging that the coalition’s transition to an advising position final 12 months enabled “the redeployment of any remaining fight forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks.”

It stays unclear what troops that assertion referred to, because the US-led coalition has lengthy mentioned it doesn’t have fight troops in Iraq.

The highest commander of US forces within the Center East mentioned in April that he doesn’t foresee a whole withdrawal of all US army personnel from Iraq. “That transfer shouldn’t be contemplated,” Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie instructed the Home Armed Providers Committee.

McKenzie acknowledged that Central Command can be able to conducting strikes towards IS from outdoors Iraq if ordered to go away the nation sooner or later.

Nevertheless, former officers say a full US withdrawal from Iraq may drive Washington to drag its roughly 900 troops out of Syria, a prospect that two senior US officers publicly dismissed simply three weeks in the past.

US troops will stay in Syria and proceed to assist native Kurdish-led fighters observe down the remnants of IS, mentioned Joey Hood, the State Division’s prime official for Center East Coverage, and Patrick Worman, the State Division’s chief for counter-IS technique, late final month.

The coalition’s presence in Syria may probably be sustained “on a shoestring” if some US forces had been to stay in Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan area, a former senior State Division official instructed Al-Monitor on Thursday, including that such a situation is unlikely anytime quickly.

NATO has agreed to extend its separate coaching mission in Iraq to some 4,000 personnel to assist offset the US drawdown in Iraq. These personnel will possible require persevering with US army logistical help, Al-Monitor beforehand reported.

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