17 year-old Aleksandra Lasek reports on the most recent statements from government officials
February 2, 2024
US and Iraqi leaders hold first talk over future relations - what does this mean?
US and Iraqi leaders have held their first round of negotiations over the prospective removal of the US-led international military coalition from Iraq following increased tensions.
Among those that met on January 25 was Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin, who discussed the future relationships between the two countries following the formation of a joint coalition to end the Coalition in Iraq.
In a statement, al-Sudani’s office said “military experts will oversee ending the military mission of the Global Coalition against Daesh (ISIL), a decade after its initiation and after the successful achievement of its mission in partnership with Iraqi security and military forces.”
These talks come amid increasing tensions and calls for US troops to leave Iraq. On January 5, al-Sudani called for the removal of US-led forces from his country, arguing that they are no longer needed.
It came a day after the US strike which killed Mushtaq Jawad Kazim al-Jawari (Abu Taqwa), leader of a Shia militant group associated with Iran and responsible for attacking US installations in Iraq and Syria.
Following this, Al Sudani announced his plan to set up a bilateral dialogue with the US, which subsequently was held in Baghdad on Saturday, January 27 with al-Sudani and top-ranking officials from both the Iraqi armed forces and the US-led coalition.
Its aim is to deliberate the removal of the US-led international military coalition focused on preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State.
The US DOD (Department of Defence) claims the strike was in ‘self-defense’ since Al-Jawari, also known as Abu Taqwa had actively been involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel..
But, given these groups are strictly speaking part of the Iraqi military, al-Sudani’s office maintained that the strike was an “unwarranted attack on an Iraqi security entity that is operating within the powers authorized by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.”
In a statement from Iraq prime minister’s office, posted to X on January 5, the government said it was looking for ‘arrangements to end the presence of the international coalition forces in Iraq permanently’, adding that only the Iraqi government should have the authority to deal with violations.
The US still maintains about 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria, both of which are aimed at ISIS ‘as part of an operation to keep the Islamic State from regaining a foothold in the region’.
The Pentagon has not officially acknowledged the withdrawal of around 2,500 US troops in Iraq. As of January 25, a first round of talks on the future of US and other foreign troops took place, according to Aljazeera.
The Washington Post reported on a statement released by the Pentagon stating how national security officials from both governments would look at the presence of US forces in the country. But at a press briefing on January 17, Major General Patrick Ryder said they were engaging with Iraqi partners, adding: “At this time, I’m not aware of any official request by the government of Iraq for DOD forces to depart.”
And more recently, the US Secretary of Defence stated that the “U.S. military personnel are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government” to assist in the “ongoing fight against ISIS,” with the Pentagon previously insisting American personnel are working closely with Iraqi security forces.
There have been long-standing calls for the US-led coalition’s departure, from mostly Shi’ite Muslim factions, according to Reuters. Other factors have come into play but the series of US strikes on Iran-linked militant groups, part of Iraq’s formal security forces, have intensified these calls.
The Iraqi government has previously declared its intention to expel American forces. Following the death of senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by the US military in January 2020, the Iraqi parliament held a vote on a motion to withdraw American forces from Iraq. But this was never put into play.
But after Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 the US-Iraqi partnership has come under growing pressure. More than 120 drone and missile attacks against US troops in Gaza have been carried out by militia groups since the invasion in Iraq and Syria backed by Iranian support.
Why are US troops in Iraq?
The US invaded Iraq in 2003 as a part of the George W. Bush administration’s ‘War on Terror’ following the 9/11 attacks. The primary reason for the emergence of the conflict was unsubstantiated suspicion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was allegedly protecting Al-Qaeda.
The 2016 Chilcot Report, an independent inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war, has questioned the legality of the conflict, claiming the war was “far from satisfactory.” The Iraq war quickly became a source of massive criticism on a global scale, especially since it was considered an illegal war.
The emergence of the Islamic State Group was propelled because of the US invasion. In 2015, Barack Obama stated, in an interview with Vice News, that the invasion had “unintended consequences” and that “ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
In 2014, the United States returned to Iraq at the request of the Baghdad government due to the rapid expansion of the Islamic State group.
With the support of a NATO contingent, the alliance has continued to train and advise even after the Islamic State group’s effort to establish a caliphate were withdrawn in March 2019.
What do these recent developments mean for US-Iraq relations?
What do these recent developments mean for US-Iraq relations?
Following the recent bilateral talk on January 25, it is not yet clear if and when US troops will be withdrawn from Iraq, and further discussions are due to be held in order to reach a mutual agreement.
According to a Reuters exclusive, sources have claimed that the talks will involve how to end the US-led international military coalition in Iraq and how to replace it with bilateral relations. These talks are expected to take months.
In a statement, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry referred to an ‘ongoing negotiation of both sides’ and the launch of the Higher Military Committee (HMC), a working group that will ‘evaluate the threat and danger of Daesh’ (ISIS).
The recent statement by US Secretary of Defence Austin said that the ‘commencement of the HMC process reflects the deep US commitment to regional stability and Iraqi sovereignty’, which the two sides committed to in August 2023.
Adding: ‘The United States and Iraq have enjoyed a deep and productive partnership on security matters in the 10 years since the Iraqi government invited the United States and the Coalition to fight ISIS, including the seven years since the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq. The start of the HMC process reflects the evolving U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship under the Strategic Framework Agreement, and it underscores our commitment to deepen our security cooperation to advance stability within Iraq and the region’.