US pledges Iraq troop withdrawal but without timeline
Issued on: Modified:
Washington (AFP) –
The United States committed Wednesday to move all remaining combat forces from Iraq, although the two sides did not set a timeline in what would be the second withdrawal since the 2003 invasion.
The first "strategic dialogue" with Iraq under US President Joe Biden's administration comes as Iranian-linked Shiite paramilitary groups fire rockets nearly daily at bases with foreign troops in hopes of forcing a US exit.
The two nations agreed in a videoconference led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein that Iraqi forces were ready to take on more responsibility.
"The parties confirmed that the mission of US and coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks," a joint statement said.
Iraq has walked a fine line in balancing its relations between the United States and Iran, which shares religious ties with its Shiite-majority neighbor.
Iraqi calls soared for a withdrawal of US troops in January 2020 after former president Donald Trump ordered the assassination in Baghdad of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani -- and tensions have remained high.
Biden in February ordered airstrikes against targets in Syria of Iranian-linked paramilitaries after a rocket attack killed a contractor for the US-led coalition and injured US personnel.
But Biden, in a rare point of agreement with Trump, has been looking for ways to wind down what have come to be dubbed "endless wars."
Trump had ordered a drawdown in his final months from Iraq as well as Afghanistan with the number of US troops in each country dipping to 2,500 by January 15.
Iraq's national security advisor, Qassem al-Araji, promised efforts to protect foreign forces and confirmed that the United States would move ahead with a pullout.
"The American side promised to withdraw an important number of its troops from Iraq," he said.
The Pentagon declined to specify a timeline for a withdrawal, saying it would be worked out in the technical talks.
"We've all been working to an eventual redeployment," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters, "when there's no need for American support on the ground."
- US reprioritizes -
Former president Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, had removed all US forces from Iraq in a fulfillment of his pledges after opposing the 2003 invasion.
But Obama sent troops back in 2014 as the Islamic State group rampaged across Iraq and Syria, brutally slaying and enslaving all but Sunni Muslims as it established a self-styled "caliphate."
"The mission is still valid. The invitation by the Iraqi government is still in place," Kirby said.
The joint statement said that US troops remained in Iraq "solely in support of Iraq's effort in the fight against ISIS" but were transitioning to "training, equipping and assisting" Iraqi forces.
The shift "reflects the success of their strategic partnership and ensures support to the (Iraqi security forces') continued efforts to ensure ISIS can never again threaten Iraq's stability," the joint statement said.
The focus on leaving Iraq comes as Biden increasingly looks to deprioritize Middle Eastern wars and devote more resources to a global rivalry with China.
Biden has also taken a greater distance from ally Saudi Arabia, including ending support for its devastating war in Yemen, and has looked to ease tensions with Iran.
A US envoy this week is taking part in indirect talks in Vienna on returning to a denuclearization agreement with Iran.
The Biden administration last week granted the maximum extension to a sanctions waiver for Iraq to stop importing gas from Iran -- a major goal of the Trump administration.
© 2021 AFP