Following the third round of strategic talks, US and Iraqi negotiators announced that the mandate of US forces in the Middle Eastern country has changed to training and advisory positions, providing ground for redeployment of fighting forces still in the region.
While both parties asserted in statements that the duration of such a redeployment would be decided in upcoming formal talks, they did not say when they would take place and why so drastic a policy shift was adopted. They only stressed the importance of maintaining cooperation in sectors like security.
The online talks, due to the pandemic, started by Trump administration last June. Biden office’s first round of negotiations focused on a variety of topics on top of which, the role and necessity of American military forces in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
The new round was demanded partially due public calls in Iraq who have campaigned for the US troops to exit the country. The talks were held on ministerial level with Antony J. Blinken, David Hale, and Fuad Hussein attending the negotiations.
Following the negotiations, the US forces’ mandate “has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq,” a statement released by the US State Department asserted.
According to Pentagon Press Secretary, the statement issued last Wednesday would not imply a deal to initiate a withdrawal of more US troops. Mustafa Kadhimi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, has approved the establishment of a committee to start technical talks with the US to agree the details relevant to a redeployment.
Kadhimi’s negotiation with the US were addressed with criticism by local analysts and activists. The Iraqi government will also be pressured by neighboring nations calling for US troops to leave the region.
A caravan of highly armed militia drove freely through the capital of Iraq last week, condemning the US presence while threatening to punish Kadhimi for neglecting the public will. Angry in response, Kadhimi demanded that theses independent militias in Iraq should act more responsibly, and indicated that he would challenge the groups in specific circumstances.
Last year, following a Washington-ordered airstrike in Baghdad that targeted Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani, relations between the US and Iraq declined. The lawmakers, then, passed a resolution calling for the termination of US troops’ presence in Iraq.
While Officials from both countries have reiterated that they support a planned withdrawal from Iraq, there have never been any timing or confirmed plan for it. Obama and Trump administrations started working with the promise of talking put all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither could manage to keep their promise.
Iraqis were under sharp pressure under Trump administration. Washington is trying to strain the relationships between the countries using political and economic strategies. As one example, Tehran has called for billions of dollars in return for supplying gas and electricity, while Iraqi official fear the US sanctions disturb their global transactions following the payment. US constraints and Iraqi concerns led the money to sit idle in an account at Trade Bank of Iraq.
While Joe Biden took some steps to resolve the issue, Iraqi officials claim they need US leniency in order to pay Tehran directly for energy imports, bypassing a complicated payment mechanism intended to avoid US restrictions on trade with Iran. Beginning in 2003, the US war on Iraq was based on the claim of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The claim has never been proved since 18 years ago while reports indicate that around 1 million Iraqis lost their lives and millions were displaced. The US presence in Iraq reinforced extremism in the country and the region and led to the emergence of ISIS; a new pretext to remain in the region.