Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said his country no longer requires American combat troops, but a formal time frame for their redeployment will depend on the outcome of talks with U.S. officials this week.
Kadhimi said Iraq will still ask for U.S. training and military intelligence gathering. His comments came in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press ahead of a planned trip to Washington, where he's slated to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden Monday for a fourth round of strategic talks.
“There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil,” said Kadhimi, falling short of announcing a deadline for a U.S. troop departure. Iraq’s security forces and army are capable of defending the country without U.S.-led troops, he said.
But Kadhimi said any withdrawal schedule would be based on the needs of Iraqi forces, who have shown themselves capable in the last year of conducting independent missions against the Daesh terror group.
“The war against Daesh and the readiness of our forces requires a special timetable, and this depends on the negotiations that we will conduct in Washington,” he said.
The U.S. and Iraq agreed in April that the U.S. transition to a train-and-advise mission meant the U.S. combat role would end but they didn't settle on a timetable for completing that transition. In Monday’s meeting at the White House, the two leaders are expected to specify a timeline, possibly by the end of this year.
The U.S. troop presence has stood at about 2,500 since late last year when former president Donald Trump ordered a reduction from 3,000.
The U.S. mission of training and advising Iraqi forces has its most recent origins in former President Barack Obama’s decision in 2014 to send troops back to Iraq. The move was made in response to the Daesh's takeover of large portions of western and northern Iraq and a collapse of Iraqi security forces that appeared to threaten Baghdad.
“What we want from the U.S. presence in Iraq is to support our forces in training and developing their efficiency and capabilities, and in security cooperation,” al-Kadhimi said.
Iraq declared victory over Daesh in late 2017 after a ruinous and bloody war. The continued presence of American troops has become a polarizing issue among Iraq’s political class since the U.S.-directed drone strike that assassinated Iranian Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), on Iraqi soil last year.
Call for pullout of all forces
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee, which consists of representatives of anti-terror factions within the PMU, underlined the need for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country.
In a statement carried by Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen TV channel, the committee warned that the meddling of foreign forces in Iraq’s security is meant to spy on the work of the country’s security agencies, adding that the mission of the U.S. Air Force in Iraq is to defend the security of Israel and spy on the resistance.
"We stress the resistance’s conditions not to allow the presence of any foreign military personnel on Iraqi soil," it added, according to Tasnim News Agency. “The pullout of foreign occupying forces from Iraq must be done completely from all Iraqi territory in order for the process to be real.”
Ammar Hakim, a powerful Iraqi Shia cleric and head of National Wisdom Movement, expressed hope that the Iraqi delegation's talks with the U.S. would take into account the country’s interests through their professional conduct.
“The Iraqi delegation should hold the negotiations in such a way that they will bring about a constructive and stable agreement,” he added. “The talks should lead to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq and focus on security, economic and cultural cooperation between Baghdad and Washington.”