US reiterates commitment to reduce troops from Iraq

(The National) The United States said it reiterated its commitment to reduce the size of its forces in Iraq during discussions on the future of their military, political and economic relations.

Washington and Baghdad held talks on Thursday to restore their relations after months of heightened tension between Iraq’s two main allies, Iran and the US.

“The two countries recognised that in light of significant progress towards eliminating the ISIS threat, over the coming months the US would continue reducing forces from Iraq,” the US State Department said.

Washington will discuss with the Iraqi government the status of remaining forces, it said.

Since 2014, the main mission of US troops deployed in Iraq has been to defeat ISIS.

Officials in the US-led coalition say Iraqi troops are now mostly able to handle the insurgents on their own.

“The United States reiterated that it does not seek nor request permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq,” the State Department said.

The Iraqi government renewed its commitment to protect US and international troops during the talks.

Western military trainers are expected to remain in Iraq, but it is not clear how many.

The United States has had around 5,000 troops stationed in the country, and coalition allies another 2,500.

Tension heightened between the US and Iran after an American drone strike killed Iranian military leader Qassem Suleimani in January near Baghdad International Airport.

It resulted in Iran-backed attacks on American troops stationed in Iraq. The threat of attacks led the US to pull troops out of three Iraqi bases in March.

After the attacks, Iraqi members of Parliament passed a non-binding resolution in January to remove foreign forces from the country.

David Schenker, the State Department’s top Middle East official, said that Washington “made it clear that we will continue to assist the Iraqi government, not only at the security level but also in implementing the required reforms.”

Mr Schenker said that Iranian-backed Iraqi militias were working against the US.

“Iran is promoting sectarian division, which fuels extremism and terrorism,” he said after the talks ended.

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