US, Iraq start formal talks on winding down Washington-led military coalition

The United States and Iraq have held a first round of talks on the future of American and other foreign troops in the Arab country, with Baghdad expecting discussions to lead to a timeline for reducing their presence.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as well as top-ranking officials from both the Iraqi armed forces and the US-led coalition met in Baghdad on Saturday.

The joint commission began “the commencement of the first round of bilateral dialogue between Iraq and the United States of America to end the Coalition in Iraq”, Al-Sudani’s office said in a statement.

“Military experts will oversee ending the military mission of the Global Coalition against Daesh [ISIL], a decade after its initiation and after its successful achievement of its mission in partnership with Iraqi security and military forces,” it added.

Currently, there are about 2,500 US troops still deployed in Iraq as part of the coalition that was formed in 2014 to help the Iraqi government defeat Daesh.

The US says its aims to set up a committee to negotiate the terms of the mission’s end were first discussed last year.

But as Israel’s war on Gaza ramps up, American forces in Iraq and Syria have faced frequent strikes by “Iran-allied groups”, resulting in Washington’s retaliatory attacks and Iraqi complaints of US “aggression” against its territory.

Since Daesh lost its hold on Iraq, officials have called for the withdrawal of coalition forces, especially after a US air strike in January 2020 killed Iranian top commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis outside Baghdad airport.

Iraqi officials have complained that the US attacks violate its sovereignty.

On Thursday, Washington announced it agreed with Baghdad on the launch of “expert working groups of military and defence professionals” as part of the joint commission.

The three working groups would investigate “the level of threat posed by ISIS [ISIL], operational and environmental requirements, and strengthening the growing capabilities of the Iraqi security forces”, al-Sudani’s office noted.

US Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrin Singh also acknowledged that the US military footprint in the Arab country “will certainly be part of the conversations as it goes forward”.

While the US has said the decision to discuss withdrawal from Iraq was decided upon before October 7, Daesh in Iraq took credit for the decision and claimed in a statement that it “proves that the Americans only understand the language of force” and promised to continue its attacks.

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