US to Discuss Troop Withdrawal with Iraqi Officials

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Iraqi Security Forces prepare to breach rooms.
Iraqi Security Forces members prepare to breach and clear rooms at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, July 1, 2019. (Spc. Zachary Myers/U.S. Army)

The future of U.S. combat forces in Iraq, and when a potential withdrawal might take place, will be on the table this week as Pentagon leaders talk with Iraqi officials.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the next round of U.S.-Iraq military talks were beginning Thursday, to discuss how the two nations will work together on counterterrorism and other security issues.

Those negotiations will include the U.S. military's footprint inside Iraq and the missions it conducts there, Kirby said.

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But he cautioned that when the Pentagon makes a statement about the talks, it may not include concrete information on a timeline for a U.S. troop withdrawal.

"I think it's important to remember that we are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government," Kirby said. "This mission, which was focused on [the Islamic State], was never intended to be permanent. And everybody has always understood that there would be a time when there would no longer be a need for U.S. combat forces inside Iraq."

The U.S. withdrew from Iraq in 2011 at the conclusion of the Iraq War. But in 2014, after ISIS tore across swaths of Syria and Iraq and threatened the Iraqi government, U.S. troops returned to fight the group as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

There are now roughly 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq. 

Speculation about the future of American troops in Iraq mounted last week after a report hit social media alleging a top U.S. official told Iraqi officials the U.S. was preparing to withdraw from the country. That report was quickly denied by the U.S. and then deleted by the reporter who posted it.

The last such direct discussions about the U.S. troop presence took place in April, but ended with just an agreement to hold further discussions on the eventual withdrawal.

Pressure has increased within Iraq for U.S. troops to leave, and Americans and their facilities there have been targeted in attacks recently. Earlier this month, two people were injured in a rocket attack on Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq, where U.S. and coalition forces are located.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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