Iraq News

US, Iraq to hold talks on troop future in June



US troops from the Combined Joint Task Force talk to Iraqi soldiers at an Iraqi base in Mosul where international coalition forces were stationed, during a handover ceremony to Iraqi forces on March 30th. [Zaid al-Obeidi/AFP]

The US will hold talks with Iraq in June on the future of its troop presence in the country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday (April 7th).

Iraq is hosting 5,200 US troops as part of the international coalition against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

Without signaling a decision on troop levels, Pompeo said the military presence would be on the table in a "strategic dialogue" scheduled for mid-June.

"With the global COVID-19 pandemic raging and plummeting oil revenues threatening an Iraqi economic collapse, it is important that our two governments work together to stop any reversal of the gains we have made in our efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilise the country," Pompeo said.

"All strategic issues between our two countries will be on the agenda, including the future presence of the US forces in that country and how best to support an independent and sovereign Iraq," he said.

The US will be represented by David Hale, the top career diplomat at the State Department.

Iran's influence in Iraq

In January, the US killed Iran's most prominent general, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone attack at the Baghdad airport.

Iran-backed Iraqi militias have been blamed for more than two dozen rocket attacks since October against bases housing US troops and foreign embassies.

The Iraqi government has been in chaos since the eruption of major protests last year, denouncing government corruption and Iran's influence in Iraq.

President Barham Saleh nominated Adnan al-Zurfi as Prime Minister on March 17th, after his previous nominee, Mohammad Allawi, failed to form a cabinet by March 2nd. Al-Zurfi has been given until April 16th to pull together a cabinet.

Al-Zurfi is a strong opponent of Iran and would likely reduce the regime's influence in Iraq.

Pompeo said the US would support any Iraqi leader who moves "away from the old sectarian model that ended up with terror and corruption".

US Central Command recently pulled back troops from smaller bases in Iraq, where they are vulnerable to attack, but said it was responding to risks from the coronavirus pandemic.

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