US to end combat mission in Iraq by end of year

Washington: US President Joe Biden said on Monday that American forces in Iraq will end the combat mission by the end of the year while continuing to train and assist Iraqi forces.

“Our role in Iraq will be… continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS (Islamic State) as it rises, but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” Biden said at the beginning of a meeting in the Oval Office with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Xinhua reported.

“Our counter-terrorism cooperation will continue even as we shift to this new phase,” he said.

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Al-Kadhimi told a leading media outlet ahead of the visit that there is no need for any foreign combat forces staying in Iraq.

“What we want from the US presence in Iraq is to support our forces in training and developing their efficiency and capabilities, and in security cooperation,” he said.

There are now around 2,500 US troops in Iraq. White House Press Secretary on Monday declined to provide the number of troops staying in Iraq at the end of the year.

US media said the move may not lead to a significant reduction of US military presence in Iraq, given most of the American troops in the country have already been taking training and advising roles for the Iraqi forces.

The two countries agreed to shift US troops’ mission back in April, but no timeline for the transition had been set at the time.

Analysts noted that the Iraqi leader faced mounting pressures at home from hardline Shia factions who demand all US troops to leave the country. This shift in the mission of US troops could be seen as a political gain for al-Kadhimi ahead of parliamentary elections in October.

The US troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the US-led invasion. US troops returned to the country in 2014 to support the Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State militants.

Immediately after the deaths of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a US airstrike at Baghdad airport in Jan. 2020, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution requiring the government to end the presence of foreign forces in Iraq.

Iraqi military bases housing US troops across the country and the US embassy in the Green Zone in central Baghdad have been frequently targeted by rocket and drone attacks from Iran-backed Shia militias.

The US military launched retaliatory airstrikes against Shia militants in Syria and Iraq this February and June, only leading to a cycle of more attacks and reprisals.

Earlier this month, up to 14 rockets hit Al-Assad Air Base housing US-led coalition forces in Iraq’s western province of Anbar, causing two minor injuries.

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