US and Iraqi officials began another round of strategic talks on Thursday, and the Pentagon said a potential troop withdrawal might be discussed.
“I think it’s important to remember that we are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “This mission, which was focused on [the Islamic State], was never intended to be permanent. And everybody has always understood that there would be a time when there would no longer be a need for US combat forces inside Iraq.”
A readout of Thursday’s meeting between Pentagon officials and an Iraqi military delegation did not mention a possible troop withdrawal. The readout said, “Both parties reaffirmed the importance of the US-Iraq bilateral security relationship, their shared commitment to the D-ISIS mission, and the need for US and Coalition to be able to safely support the Iraqi Security Forces.”
In January 2020, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel US troops after the Trump administration assassinated Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad. Since coming into office in May 2020, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been under domestic pressure to get US troops to leave. That pressure has increased since President Biden bombed Iraqi militias in Iraq and Syria.
Kadhimi will meet with President Biden on July 26th. Earlier this week, Kadhimi said he wants continued US support to fight ISIS but that he will convey to Biden that he wants US “combat” troops to leave Iraq. There are currently about 2,500 US troops in Iraq under the umbrella of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.
The US has previously agreed to set up discussions over a possible troop withdrawal but has never set a timeline. If Kadhimi wants “combat” troops to leave, that leaves the US wiggle room to leave troops if their presence can be framed as an advisory one.