US president Joe Biden agreed to formally end America's combat mission in Iraq by the end of year, as he hosted Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House.
“Our role in Iraq will be . . . to be available to continue to train, to assist, to help, and to deal with Isis [Islamic State] – as it arrives. But we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” he said alongside the prime minister in the Oval Office.
The announcement comes amid calls from the Iraqi government for the United States to remove its combat troops from the country. About 2,500 US troops remain in the country, and most of them are expected to be reassigned to non-combat roles. Relations between Baghdad and Washington have been strained since the killing of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani by US forces as he left Baghdad airport last year. Meanwhile, the US has blamed Iranian-backed militia groups for attacks on its troops in the country in recent years.
Withdrawal in 2011
President Barack Obama withdrew US forces from Iraq in 2011, but was forced to send forces again three years later to help counter the rise of Islamic State. President Biden was vice-president at the time and centrally involved in decisions around Iraq.
Speaking alongside Mr Kadhimi, Mr Biden said he had "engaged deeply" in Iraq for his entire career, stretching back to his time in the Senate. He also referenced his late son Beau's tour of duty in the country while serving in the US military.
“Iraq has been a vital partner for the United States for some time now in the Middle East,” Mr Biden said. “The sacrifice that so many have made to build the US-Iraq partnership has been real and is consequential.”
Mr Biden said he looked forward to “full and fair” elections in Iraq in October, and said America remained committed to a strategic dialogue with the country, including on security co-operation, the fight against Islamic State and terrorism, and tackling the Covid pandemic.
The change of direction in Iraq comes as the US pulls out of Afghanistan ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Mr Biden has defended his decision, arguing that the war is unwinnable, but there are already signs the Taliban are making gains in the country.
The American military is continuing to carry out drone strikes against the Taliban until at least the official withdrawal on August 31st.