US drops troops in Iraq over “next months”

The US will “continue to reduce” its military presence in Iraq, designed to fight against the Islamic State organization, “in the coming months,” the US and Iraqi governments announced Thursday in a joint statement at the end of their “strategic dialogue”.

The United States announced on Thursday (June 11) that they will “reduce” their military presence in Iraq after resuming the language with the Iraqi government, which is now headed by a prime minister more favorable to Washington, after months of tensions.

Citing “significant progress” against the Islamic State jihadist group, due to the US presence at the head of an international coalition, the two countries reaffirmed in a joint statement that “the United States will continue to reduce its forces in Iraq”.

The withdrawal will take place “in the coming months,” the US and Iraqi governments added, without specifying the scope or exact timetable. Washington will also “discuss with the Iraqi government the status of the remaining forces”, without seeking “a permanent military presence”. A position in line with President Donald Trump’s desire to free himself, which promised to “end the endless wars”.

>> Exclusive report: Protestants in Iraq condemn kidnapping of opponents and journalists

This statement was made following a “strategic dialogue” through video conferencing – due to Covid-19 – which aimed to regain some stability in the stormy relations between the two allies.

This is an update of the “dialogue” in 2008, when the United States set conditions for its departure after invading Iraq. Since then, their troops have returned, much fewer in number, to fight against the Islamic State organization.

High anti-American sentiment

More than two and a half years after the “victory” over the Iraqi side jihadists, the thousands of American soldiers in the country – 5200 at the beginning of the year – were once again at the heart of the tensions.

The anti-American sentiment emerged with the death in January of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant killed in Baghdad in a raid ordered by President Trump – following the multiplication of rocket attacks against US interests, attributed by Washington to pro-Iran forces. During the process, Shiite deputies voted to expel foreign soldiers.

>> See: “Yankee go home”? In Iraq, the coalition against IS has led the wing

In Baghdad, however, a new prime minister has arrived. Former intelligence chief Moustafa al-Kazimi, who is believed to be close to the Americans and his Arab allies, changed the game. The man has taken the cloth in a country in the midst of an economic crisis and still demands justice for about 550 protesters killed in the repression of an unprecedented uprising.

If his predecessor Adel Abdel Mahdi never managed to get an invitation to Washington, the new prime minister already has his card for the White House this year, AFP’s two government officials assure. “It was a problem of trust with the old cabinet, it has changed,” insists one.

However, a drastic reduction in US troops seems highly unlikely as the jihadist threat persists, the other coalition states. “Non-Americans in the coalition will only stay in Iraq if the Americans stop,” said a diplomat at the AFP.

Promise on financial aid

Other parties were not invited but closely followed the dialogue: Iran’s allies in Iraq. Ahmed al-Assadi, spokesman for their parliamentary bloc – leader of the deportation vote – recently repeated giving the Americans six months to leave.

Again, Monday and Wednesday, two rockets hit American soldiers and diplomats in Baghdad as a reminder.

However, the tone is less aggressive. The Hezbollah Brigades, the most radical faction of pro-Iran, have announced that they will not give up their position until after Thursday.

>> Read: Where are the Iraqi security forces facing the waters of a US departure?

“This withdrawal provides more leeway for Mustafa al-Kazimi and the Americans,” said Robert Ford of the Middle East Institute’s think tank. Especially since the Iraqi government “has committed to protecting the international coalition’s military personnel,” according to the joint statement.

In return, Washington promised to promote financial aid to Baghdad. “We will support the new government through international financial institutions to help it address the challenges of Covid-19 and the reduction of oil revenues,” said Middle East Deputy Secretary of State David Schenker. to journalists.

“Relations between the United States and Iraq will not be defined overnight,” Robert Ford said. But “for once,” there were “the right people, in the right place and at the right time,” continues this ex-US diplomat.

With AFP