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US and Iraq agree to establish timeline for withdrawal of US combat forces in third round of the Strategic Dialogue

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As scheduled on 7 April, US and Iraqi government officials conducted a teleconference as part of the third round of talks for the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue. Officials discussed a range of security, economic, political, and cultural issues. The respective governments released a joint statement following the teleconference. This included statements reaffirming the economic partnership between the US and Iraq, US support for the energy sector and other industries, and insinuated intent to reduce Iraq’s reliance upon Iran for its energy needs. The primary issue concerned the debate over the future presence of US forces in Iraq long following the conclusion of the liberation of Iraq from IS in 2017.

The US and Iraq reaffirmed that US forces would be allowed to remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future in support of ISF and enduring counter-IS operations. “Based on the increasing capacity of the ISF, the parties confirmed that the mission of U.S. and Coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks.” The GoI also “reaffirmed its commitment to protect the Global Coalition’s personnel, convoys, and diplomatic facilities. The two countries also emphasized that the bases on which U.S. and Coalition personnel are present are Iraqi bases and their presence is solely in support of Iraq’s effort in the fight against ISIS.”

No significant shifts in forces anticipated, mantaining anti-US attack intent:
Publicized elements of the 7 April Strategic Dialogue were consistent with preceding expectations. While current IS-related threats are a mere shadow of historic existential threats, the organization is still active, and Iraq remains heavily reliant upon the US and other CF contributors for precision strike capabilities, intelligence support, and other key enablers. The demand for security resources remains elevated as the GoI contends with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic including the drop in oil prices. The US government, supported by a familiar combination of economic concessions and pressures, unsurprisingly maintained the long-term staying power of US forces in Iraq accordingly.

Noted plans for reductions in US forces were far from definitive, with no discussion of intent to reduce the force cap for US personnel from the currently authorized count of 2,500. To the contrary, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby subsequently confirmed that the statement did not represent an agreement to begin a further withdrawal of US forces.

For further discussion and analysis please see the full report.

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