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25 Jan, 2024 04:59

US to negotiate future of its troops in Iraq – media

Baghdad has pushed for an end to the American-led coalition and condemned recent strikes in the country
US to negotiate future of its troops in Iraq – media

The US is set to hold talks on the future of its military presence in Iraq, officials have told multiple news outlets, suggesting Washington and Baghdad will discuss a timeline to end the decade-long US deployment in the country.

In a message delivered to Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein on Wednesday, the US government said it was willing to negotiate the next phase of the military coalition, according to unnamed officials cited by Reuters and CNN.

Hussein later said it had received an “important message” from the US envoy, adding that it would be “studied by the prime minister and the relevant concerned authorities,” without elaborating.

The US maintains around 2,500 troops in Iraq, holdovers from a 2014 deployment to combat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). They are meant to serve in an advisory role, as the Pentagon declared an end to combat operations in 2021, but the military has carried out dozens of armed missions in the years since – most targeting Iranian-backed militia groups.

While the Pentagon said it was not considering a troop withdrawal as recently as January 8, CNN reported that part of the upcoming discussions “will focus on whether and when it will be feasible to end the US military presence in Iraq.”

According to multiple sources cited by Reuters, Washington has relaxed its stance on the issue. Though the US previously held that it would only agree to a pull-out once attacks by Iranian-backed militias had stopped, it has reportedly dropped that precondition.

Some officials in Baghdad have called for a quicker exit, however, urging the US to commit to a specific timeline for a withdrawal. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said he would soon initiate the process to “end the presence of the international coalition forces in Iraq permanently,” though did not offer any date for when that might occur.

The negotiations with Washington could take “several months, if not longer,” Reuters reported, noting that a US drawdown is not yet “imminent.”

Al-Sudani has loudly denounced several US airstrikes on Iraqi soil in recent weeks, saying they compromise his country’s sovereignty and threaten regional stability. Following the latest round of strikes on Tuesday, the leader said the US was “undermining agreements and various sectors of joint security cooperation,” also stressing the need to “reshape the future relationship” with Washington.