Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi arrived in Washington D.C. on Monday to kick off the fourth round of strategic talks with the United States. The dialogue, which was initiated in June 2020, focuses on relations between Iraq and the United States and strengthening bilateral cooperation across several areas.
During the talks, al-Kadhimi and US President Joe Biden reached an agreement that will formally end the US combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year. However, the US presence in Iraq had already transitioned to an advisory nature and the number of combat troops declined significantly over the past few years.
President Biden stressed the role of the United States in the fight against ISIS and signaled the continued presence of US forces to prevent the resurgence of the terror group in the region. “Our role in Iraq will be to continue to train, to assist, to help, and to deal with ISIS as it arises but we are not going to be in a combat zone by the end of the year,” he said after his meeting with PM al-Kadhimi.
The two sides also reinforced their commitment to strengthen counterterrorism cooperation.
Al-Kadhimi and President Biden’s meeting also marked the first time the two sides came together since the latter took office in January 2021.
While the number of American troops stands around 2,500, the number of remaining US combat troops is unknown.
The fourth round of the strategic dialogue received a warm reception in Iraq as Iraqi “resistance” groups, which include Iran-backed militia groups, ramped up their attacks targeting US presence in Iraq over the summer.
Shia cleric and popular political figure Muqtada Sadr and the leader of the Fatah Bloc, Hadi al-Amiri, released statements “welcoming” the outcome of Iraq-US talks.
Iran-backed militia groups also welcomed the US decision to withdraw combat troops from Iraq. However, experts warn that the remaining troops can still be targeted regardless of the nature of their presence.