Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said Sunday that while he wants continued support from the US to fight ISIS, he will push President Biden to withdraw “combat” troops from the country in an upcoming meeting.
“We are visiting Washington to set out our relationship with America. The Iraqi army still needs their forces for training. We need their support to our air force, and we need their intelligence support in the fight against ISIS,” Kadhimi told Saudi Arabia’s al-Hadath TV.
Kadhimi is set to meet with Biden in Washington on July 26th. “The visit will be to set out this relationship, and to put an end to the presence of combat forces, because the Iraqi army can now fight for itself on behalf of Iraqis and the world against these terrorist groups in Iraq. There is no need for combat troops,” the Iraqi prime minister said.
There are currently about 2,500 US troops in Iraq under the umbrella of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. Since coming into office in May 2020, Kadhimi has been under intense domestic pressure to get US troops to leave. In January 2020, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel US forces after Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in Baghdad by a US drone strike.
In April, the State Department released a statement that said the US role in Iraq had transitioned to an advisory one and that combat troops could be “redeployed.” But so far, the US has not agreed to a timeline on the withdrawal of troops. Narrowing the withdrawal focus to only combat troops leaves the US a lot of wiggle room to keep a sizeable presence in Iraq if it can be framed as an advisory and training mission.
Attacks on US facilities in Iraq have stepped up in recent weeks after Biden bombed Iraqi militia targets in Iraq and Syria. The elements in Iraq opposed to the US occupation of their country would likely not accept a continued US presence, whether it is technically an advisory role or not.