A U.S. soldier at the Qayyarah air base in northern Iraq in March 2020 -- the United States has agreed in talks with Iraq to remove all remaining combat forces deployed to fight Islamic State extremists, although U.S. forces will still provide training Photo: AFP/File
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U.S. pledges Iraq troop withdrawal but without timeline

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By Shaun TANDON

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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.-led coalition and injured U.S. 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 U.S. troops in each country dipping to 2,500 by Jan 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."

Former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, had removed all U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


3 Comments
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Just hand it over to Iran. that is exactly what will happen as soon as NATO pulls out.

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The US is NOT 'handing it over to Iran' as the screamers like to emote, it is handing Iraq back to Iraqis after over half a century of either direct and open control through military occupation or indirect and openly secret control through its pet dictator, Saddam.

That the Iraqi population is predisposed to be friendly with its biggest neighbor was baked into the situation well before that. That the Iraqi population is eager to have a government that is VERY friendly with its democratic neighbor was baked in by the US backing Saddam while he was attacking the Iraqi population, the Iranian population and government welcoming Iraqis fleeing Saddams attacks, and then American attacks, as NEIGHBORS AND FRIENDS, not refugees, for decades, and then teaching IRAQIS how to defend Iraq from America's replacement for Saddam, DAESH.

To put it in terms even the screamers can understand, turning the population of Iraq against Iran would be harder than turning the population of Canada against America.

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Will Biden be labeled weak because of this? Will those who label him weak also accuse him of being a warmonger?

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