The Iraqi prime minister has said his country no longer needs US combat troops to fight ISIS, but a formal timeline for their redeployment will depend on the outcome of talks with US officials this week.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi said Iraq will always require US training and military intelligence gathering. His comments came in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press ahead of a scheduled trip to Washington, where he is due to meet with President Joe Biden on Monday for a fourth round of strategic talks.
“There is no need for foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil,” al-Kadhimi said, not having announced a deadline for the departure of US troops. The Iraqi security forces and military are able to defend the country without the troops of the US-led coalition, he said.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
But al-Kadhimi said any withdrawal schedule would be based on the needs of Iraqi forces, which have shown themselves capable over the past year of conducting independent anti-ISIS missions.
“The war against Isis and the preparation of our forces require a special timetable, and it depends on the negotiations we will conduct in Washington,” he said.
The United States and Iraq agreed in April that the US transition to a training and advisory mission meant that the US combat role would end, but they did not agree on a timeline to complete that transition. . At Monday’s White House meeting, the two leaders are expected to specify a timeline, possibly by the end of this year.
The US troop presence has risen to around 2,500 since late last year, when former President Donald Trump ordered a reduction of 3,000.
The American mission to train and advise Iraqi forces has its most recent origins in the decision of former President Barack Obama in 2014 to return troops to Iraq. The move was made in response to ISIS’s takeover of much of western and northern Iraq and the collapse of Iraqi security forces that appeared to threaten Baghdad. Obama completely withdrew US forces from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the US invasion.
“What we want from the US presence in Iraq is to support our forces in training and developing their effectiveness and capabilities, and in security cooperation,” al-Kadhimi said.
The trip to Washington comes as the Prime Minister’s administration has suffered one setback after another, seriously undermining public confidence. Ongoing missile attacks by militias have stressed state limits to prevent them and a series of devastating hospital fires amid the surging coronavirus cases have left dozens dead.