WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden declared US relations with Iraq would enter a new phase with American troops exiting combat operations in the country by year-end as he had held talks with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.
Amid the threat of a Daesh resurgence and Iran’s powerful influence in Baghdad, Biden stressed that Washington remains “committed to our security cooperation” while Kadhemi reaffirmed their “strategic partnership.”
US troops in Iraq will “to continue to train, to assist, to help, to deal with ISIS as it arises,” Biden said. But, in a shift that comes as the United States pulls out of Afghanistan, the US leader confirmed that the 2,500 US troops still in Iraq won’t be fighting. “We’re not going to be, at the end of the year, in a combat mission,” he said.
Eighteen years after the US invaded Iraq to remove strongman Saddam Hussein, and seven years after a US-led coalition battled Islamic State extremists who threatened the country, Washington turned its focus to other types of assistance.
It said it would help strengthen electric power supplies, fight Covid-19, confront the impacts of climate change, and support private sector development. Some 500,000 coronavirus vaccine doses pledged to Baghdad “will be there in a couple weeks,” Biden told Kadhemi in the White House.
Biden also emphasised US support for elections in October in Iraq, saying Washington is working closely with Baghdad, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations to ensure the elections are fair.
“We support strengthening Iraq’s democracy and we’re anxious to make sure the election goes forward,” he said. Kadhemi said he was in Washington “to discuss the future of our nation.”
“America, they help Iraq. Together we fight, fight and defeat ISIS,” he said. “Today, our relation is stronger than ever — our partnership in the economy, the environment, health, education, culture and more.”
Several powerful pro-Iran groups in Iraq on Tuesday welcomed the announcement, an outcome they have long demanded. The Conquest Alliance, the political wing of Iraq’s Hashed-al-Shaabi paramilitary network, which is dominated by pro-Iran groups, said it considered Biden’s announcement “to be a positive step towards the full sovereignty of Iraq.” “We hope that it will materialise on the ground,” it added.
The face-to-face meeting was to give political cover to Kadhemi, in power for little over a year and under intensifying pressure over the continued US presence, analysts said. Several other pro-Iran groups in Iraq also reacted positively.
The Imam Ali Brigades lauded “the end of the foreign presence” and said it “thanked the (Iraqi) government for keeping its promises,” while influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also welcomed Biden’s announcement. But more radical pro-Iran groups have not yet responded.