White House Confirms US Forces in Iraq to Be Shifted From Combat to Training, Silent on Troop Totals
15:38 GMT 26.07.2021 (Updated: 17:45 GMT 26.07.2021)
The United States has about 2,500 troops in Iraq, with its forces deployed in the country for much of the past two decades following the 2003 invasion. Troops were temporarily withdrawn in 2011, only to return after the rise of the Daesh (ISIS)* terrorist "caliphate." Baghdad announced Daesh’s defeat in 2017, but US forces have remained ever since.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed to reporters Monday that US troop numbers in Iraq would be 'aligned' based on a change of mission from combat to training support.
The spokeswoman declined to provide details on how many troops total the US expects to have in Iraq by the end of the year.
Earlier, a senior administration source told AP that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadimi and US President Joe Biden would announce an agreement Monday to end the US military’s combat presence in Iraq by the end of 2021.
Under the agreement, the US role in Iraq will switch to a strictly advisory and training capacity, according to the source.
The announcement is expected to be made later on Monday from the White House, where al-Khadimi and Biden are set to meet to discuss the strategic partnership between the two countries.
AP’s source said the administration feels that Iraqi’s security forces have been “battle tested” and proven “capable” in defending the country. The White House continues to consider Daesh as a "considerable threat," they said.
In an interview on Sunday, al-Khadimi stressed that Baghdad does not need any US or other foreign combat troops on its soil to be able to defend itself, and said that a “special timetable” was necessary for the withdrawal of these forces. He clarified that Iraq would still like assistance from Washington in troop training and security cooperation.
The US intervened in Iraq in 2014 at the request of the country’s government to help combat Daesh militants which had seized large swathes of the country’s northwest and proceeded to expand into eastern Syria. The terrorist group arose in the aftermath of chaos caused by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which toppled the country’s government and sparked widespread insurgencies and economic and political instability in Iraq and across the region.
Iraq and the US triumphantly announced that Daesh had been defeated in 2017, but US combat forces have stayed in the country ever since, justifying their presence by citing the threat said to be posed by terrorist remnants.
Iraqi officials began pressuring the US to withdrawal from the country in January 2020, when, in the aftermath of the unprovoked air strike targeting an Iranian commander and a senior Baghdad-allied militia leader, Iraq’s parliament adopted a resolution demanding that all US forces be expelled.
26 July 2021, 02:51 GMT
In the months that followed, amid pressure from Baghdad and escalating attacks by government-allied Shia militias, the Pentagon began paring down troop numbers from 5,300 to 2,500, and handed over several major bases to Iraqi forces, but refused to agree with parliament’s demands to leave the country completely.
Iraq and the US have held three rounds of negotiations on the status of the remaining troops, with al-Khadimi’s visit constituting a fourth round if talks don’t end in agreement.
US media have speculated that Biden will try to get some kind of assurance out of Baghdad that it will “crack down on Iran-backed Shiite militias” attacking US forces. However, al-Khadimi appears to have brushed off any suggestions in this direction, saying Iraq is partnered with Iran because “the Iranians are working seriously to help us build stability in Iraq.”
Iran provided advisory support and other assistance to Iraqi militias created in 2014 to fight Daesh. Now, these same militias have accused Washington of creating the terrorist group, and have threatened to attack US forces continuously until they leave Iraq.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.