US announces end of combat mission in Iraq, but troops won't leave

BAGHDAD – The US military said Thursday it has completed its transition from a combat mission in Iraq to one intended to “advise, assist...


BAGHDAD – The US military said Thursday it has completed its transition from a combat mission in Iraq to one intended to “advise, assist and enable” Iraqi forces fighting the remnants of the Islamic State.

While the announcement signaled the latest change in the mission in Iraq since the invasion of the United States 18 years ago, the move does not reduce the number of American forces in the country; instead, it will keep the same number of troops – around 2,500 – on the ground in support roles.

“We have come a long way since the coalition answered the call for help,” Major General John W. Brennan Jr., commander of the anti-ISIS task force in Iraq, said in a statement. . “In this new phase, our transformative partnership with Iraq symbolizes the need for constant vigilance.

For the Iraqi government, the declared withdrawal of combat troops was a political victory aimed at repelling pressure from political parties and militias backed by Iran and opposed to any presence of American forces. It follows talks between President Biden and Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the Iraqi prime minister, in July, after which the president pledged to withdraw all fighting forces by the end of the year.

The move was seen by US officials at the time as an effort to relieve pressure on Mr. al-Kadhimi, a US ally who had to balance relations with Iran to maintain his position.

US and Iraqi forces held a low-key ceremony in Baghdad on Thursday afternoon marking the transition to a “advise and assist” mission, a recognition that US troops will largely continue to fulfill the same roles they have. been since the territorial defeat of Islam. State three years ago.

As part of the transition, the US military said that it recently moved a logistics headquarters from a base in the western province of al-Anbar to Kuwait.

Thursday’s announcement comes just months after the withdrawal from Afghanistan following a 20-year occupation that Biden said the United States could no longer justify. But the administration has resisted a complete withdrawal from Iraq, where another war erupted after the 9/11 attacks, because it intends to push back Iran’s influence and the continuing threat from the Islamic State. crucial for US strategic interests.

The US military withdrew from Iraq in 2011 after failing to negotiate a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government. Three years later, the Iraqi government asked him to return to help oust the Islamic State, which has conquered a third of Iraq and much of Syria.

It is still unclear whether Thursday’s announcement would be enough to appease the Iranian-backed militia groups who have called for the complete withdrawal of US forces.

A group of militias now part of the Iraqi government security forces said they had “no faith in the promises” made by the United States.

“If US forces do not withdraw at the end of the year, it can only be defined as an occupation,” Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba said in a statement. The militia is part of the paramilitary forces mobilized in 2014 to fight the Islamic State and was subsequently absorbed by the official Iraqi security forces and placed in public pay.

“Targeting the US occupation in Iraq is a great honor, and we support the factions that target it,” the group said.

Thursday’s US statement noted that while coalition troops in Iraq do not have a combat role, they maintain the right to self-defense.

The United States has repeatedly accused Iranian-backed militias of attacking the US embassy and US bases within larger Iraqi bases. The militias say they avenge the murder of Major General Qassim Suleimani – Iran’s top security and intelligence commander and a top Iraqi security commander – in a US drone strike in Baghdad last year.

After the strike, the Iraqi parliament called on the government to expel American forces – a motion that was not binding but sent a strong message to any politician who wanted to stay in power, including the prime minister.

Iranian-backed militias retaliated using measures that include assaulting the outer walls of the United States Embassy compound in the heavily protected Green Zone of Baghdad. In recent weeks, militiamen protesting the US military presence have staged a protest sit-in, pitching tents near one of the entrances to the Green Zone in an implicit threat to the embassy.

The tension in Iraq was exacerbated by the disputed results of the parliamentary elections in October. The country’s main parties backed by Iran, some of which are the political arms of the militias, emerged with far fewer seats, while the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric, won seats. Mr Sadr’s fighters fought against US forces during the US occupation of Iraq, but he is now seen as a nationalist and a balancing force against more pro-Iranian factions.

Groups that lost seats have called the election fraudulent, raising fears of violence if a federal court certifies the results as scheduled on Monday.

While violence by and between competing Shiite armed factions is the most immediate concern in Iraq, Islamic State continues to pose a threat.

Major General Brennan, in his comments on Thursday, described the terror group as “down but not out.”

Although the Islamic State no longer holds any territory, it maintains sleeper cells in Iraq and Syria. It has recently resurfaced in an area of ​​Iraq claimed by both the federal government and Iraqi Kurdish forces.

As Iraqi forces have become increasingly proficient in the fight against ISIS, they still rely on the US-led coalition for intelligence assistance, operational planning, and air support.

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Newsrust - US Top News: US announces end of combat mission in Iraq, but troops won't leave
US announces end of combat mission in Iraq, but troops won't leave
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