US: Iraq is not Afghanistan and we are here to stay, says top official

America has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq, guarding the US embassy and training Iraqi personnel

American soldiers are seen at the U.S. army base in Qayyara, south of Mosul October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani - S1AEUJAWFFAA
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The US will not leave Iraq as it did in Afghanistan, a top official from Washington said on Wednesday, amid fears that an American withdrawal would bring chaos to the country.

In August, American troops in Afghanistan returned home, nearly 20 years after Washington spearheaded a multinational invasion of the country.

The move allowed the Taliban to seize most of the country and sweep into the capital Kabul following the Afghan government’s fall.

“Iraq is not Afghanistan, we are here in the long term, we view Iraq as a key strategic partner and we are committed to this partnership,” Jennifer Gavito, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran and Iraq, said.

“Iraq is central to the US vision for a stable Middle East,” she said, during a forum held by the Middle East Research Institute think tank in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Washington’s main goal is to “prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons”, Ms Gavito said.

During the past 18 months, the size of American forces in Iraq has reduced from around 3,000 to 2,500, Remaining personnel will continue a mission to protect the US embassy and to train Iraqi forces.

Since 2014, the US has led an international coalition in Iraq to fight ISIS.

It has been working closely with the Iraqi military to battle ISIS sleeper cells across the country since the defeat of the group at the Battle of Mosul in 2017.

“Transitioning the Iraqi army away from combat operations does not mean we are leaving Iraq. We have seen that the capacity of Iraqi security has improved, so we’re standing by but ready to assist,” Ms Gavito said.

ISIS is not yet defeated and “we remain committed to the fight and ongoing development of Iraqi security forces, including the Peshmerga”, she said, referring to the military forces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish north.

Under former US president Donald Trump, most American troops who had been sent as part of the coalition were withdrawn.

Those who remain are officially classed as advisers and trainers for Iraq’s army and counter-terrorism units.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi visited Washington in August, which concluded with an agreement to formally end the US combat mission in Iraq by the end of this year.

However, Washington has said repeatedly that its troops will still operate in the country on an advisory basis.

Updated: October 27, 2021, 2:05 PM