The US-led coalition will redeploy hundreds of troops from bases in Iraq including to outside the country, coalition and US officials said Tuesday (March 17th).
The announcement came hours after another rocket attack targeted an Iraqi base where foreign troops are located, the 24th such attack in less than six months.
"The coalition is re-positioning troops from a few smaller bases," said coalition spokesman Myles Caggins.
The first redeployment was taking place Tuesday from al-Qaim, the western base along the border with Syria, a coalition official told AFP.
"A transfer ceremony is taking place today to hand over the facilities to Iraqi forces, and the intent is that all coalition troops will be leaving al-Qaim," the official said.
"It is historic," the official said, adding that about 300 coalition troops would be moved out of the base.
Some had already been redeployed to coalition positions in neighbouring Syria along with artillery, while others would be sent to other bases in Iraq or to Kuwait.
The official denied that the redeployment was a response to a spike over the last week in rocket attacks targeting foreign troops stationed across Iraq, which the US blames on Iran-backed Iraqi factions.
Troops to leave 3 bases
Some 5,200 US forces are positioned across Iraq and form the bulk of the coalition set up in 2014 to help local forces battle the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
They are deployed at about a dozen bases in Iraq alongside local forces.
A US official told AFP that coalition troops would leave three bases. In addition to al-Qaim, troops at the al-Qayyarah and Kirkuk bases in northern Iraq were set to be withdrawn by the end of April.
While al-Qaim has not been hit by rockets, both al-Qayyarah and Kirkuk have faced heavy rocket fire in recent months.
"There was no trigger but the violence helped keep the (withdrawal) pace fast," the official said, noting that overall troop numbers in Iraq would remain the same.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraq Monday the US would retaliate "as necessary" against any new assaults on Americans and "will take additional action as necessary in self-defence".
In a phone call with Iraq's caretaker prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, Pompeo said that Baghdad "must defend coalition personnel" who are officially deployed as part of the campaign against ISIS.