An awkward atmosphere of confusion was created Thursday regarding the possible plans of the US-led military coalition to withdraw more forces from Iraq after Iraqi Prime Minister Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced the move with Washington denying it was discussed about that at all.
Al-Kadhimi’s statement referring to a pullout of American troops from Iraq was issued after his meeting with Brett McGurk, the White House special coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, to discuss Washington’s ties with Baghdad.
The statement about the Baghdad meeting said that discussions were focused, among other things, on the American combat troops’ withdrawal mechanisms from Iraq and on expanding cooperation in the economic, cultural, and trade fields.
Anonymous Iraqi officials, quoted by BBC, cited McGurk noting that US troops would withdraw from Iraq in a step-by-step process, according to a timeline to be determined during Kadhimi’s visit to Washington.
Two US officials denied the report and cited no change in US policy, a third official said McGurk’s comments may have been misconstrued while according to a fourth US official, full withdrawal is not expected, but further adjustments to the US military presence in Iraq are likely to be discussed in the coming months.
Some 2,500 American soldiers are still in Iraq to help the government prevent a possible resurgence of the Islamic State although Iraq’s parliament voted last year to expel foreign forces after January 2020’s murder of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis ordered by former President Donald Trump.
Trump administration ignored the voting, prompting outrage on the Iraqi side, but President Biden changed the rhetoric, enticing talks about an eventual withdrawal of combat troops and Pentagon’s shift to advisory role in Iraq.
The US-led coalition footprint in Iraq was significantly reduced last year when eight bases were handed back to the Iraqi military with foreign troops consolidating at sites in Baghdad, Erbil and Anbar province.