Iraqi officials told The Associated Press that Iraq sent a formal request to the Biden administration to set a date for talks on the withdrawal of US troops from the country.
Three anonymous Iraqi officials told AP that a memo requesting the talks was delivered to US Ambassador to Iraq Mathew Tueller earlier this month. The Iraqis requested the talks be held in April.
Confirming the report, the White House said on Tuesday that the US will be holding talks with Iraq in April, which will serve to “clarify” Washington’s role in the country. “The meetings will further clarify that coalition forces are in Iraq solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS cannot reconstitute,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that made no mention of a possible troop withdrawal.
Iraqi officials have been calling for a withdrawal of US forces since the January 2020 assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike alongside Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who headed the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). In the aftermath of the assassinations, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel US troops.
The Trump administration held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi last year and started drawing down troops, although the exact timetable on a full withdrawal was never clear. There are currently about 2,500 US troops in Iraq.
Part of the reason Trump started negotiations with Kadhimi was the frequent rocket attacks on US bases that stepped up after the killing of al-Muhandis and Soleimani. The PMF militias agreed to an unofficial truce with the US that hinged on an eventual full US withdrawal.
While there were occasional rocket attacks on US bases, the truce held relatively well, and there’s no way of knowing who the perpetrators of the rocket attacks were. All signs indicated the PMF was committed to the ceasefire, although the US is quick to blame Shia militias, like Kataib Hezbollah, under the umbrella of the PMF for any violence in Iraq.
Last month, President Biden bombed Kataib Hezbollah members in eastern Syria over rocket attacks that the group denied responsibility for. More attacks on US bases followed Biden’s airstrikes, but the PMF groups seem like they want to avoid further escalations. A report from Middle East Eye said Iraq’s militias told Kadhimi that they would not attack the US if the prime minister requested a full withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.