Iraqi lawmakers will take a “new position” vis-à-vis the United States if upcoming talks do not lead to a withdrawal of US forces from their country, Kati al-Rikabi, a member of the parliament’s security and defence committee, has indicated.
“The parliament will take a new position if the new round of strategic dialogue between Baghdad and Washington in April ends without a decision on the withdrawal of foreign combat forces from the country,” al-Rikabi told Sputnik Arabic on Saturday.
The lawmaker recalled that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi recently formed a committee of senior officials, including the foreign minister and the chief of staff of the Iraqi army, as well as the director of the prime minister’s office, tasking them with scheduling the exit of all foreign forces. This group will play a “major” role in the strategic dialogue, al-Rikabi indicated.
Commenting on possible resistance by the American side, the lawmaker suggested that the statements of US officials have “fluctuated” persistently since the day Iraq’s parliament issued its resolution demanding withdrawal.
“Some of them said that a third of forces would remain, and some said there was no interest in a continued US presence in Iraq, especially of strike forces. There has been no really firm statement from any US officials on this subject,” al-Rikabi said, adding that lawmakers find this trend “concerning”.
Al-Rikabi emphasised that Baghdad cannot refuse to abide by the unanimous decision taken by parliament, which he stressed is “binding on the government.”
Will They, or Won’t They?
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Tuesday that Iraqi and US officials would resume bilateral strategic talks in April, with the discussions expected to include “clarification” by the US side that the reason US forces are still in Iraq is to train and advise Iraqi forces “to ensure that ISIS* cannot reconstitute”. Washington has used a similar justification for its ongoing (and illegal) presence in Syria.
Iraq’s parliament issued a unanimous non-binding resolution demanding the withdrawal of all foreign forces on 5 January 2020, two days after the US drone strike assassination of Iranian anti-terror commander Qasem Soleimani and senior Iraqi Shia militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at the Baghdad airport.
President Trump initially resisted the withdrawal demands, threatening to make Iraq compensate the US for billions of dollars in military infrastructure spending. Nevertheless, the US and other NATO forces began withdrawing from the country in March 2020, in part under the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic, as Iraqi militia groups began pounding coalition bases in rocket attacks. On 19 March 2020, the US began transferring bases to Iraqi security forces’ control. By January 2021, US troop numbers had dwindled from about 5,200 to about 2,500 personnel, total. Trump previously indicated that he would like to see “all” troops home by Christmas, but failed to achieve this goal amid infighting at the Pentagon, which led him to replace his defence secretary and begin a last-minute reorganisation of defence staff in November.
* aka Daesh, a terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.