Iraq plans to 'end presence' of US-led coalition forces, PM says

Mohammed Shia Al Sudani’s announcement comes during clashes between Iran-backed militias and American military

Iraq seeks to 'end presence' of US-led forces in country

Iraq seeks to 'end presence' of US-led forces in country
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The Iraqi government is working to end the presence of foreign troops from the US-led coalition against ISIS, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani said on Thursday.

Mr Al Sudani's announcement followed an escalation in attacks between the US military and Iran-backed Shiite militias, including air strikes on three militia bases in central Iraq this week that killed one fighter and wounded 18 other people.

The militias have been launching almost daily drone and missile attacks against US troops in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, to which the US military has retaliated with air strikes that have so far killed 16 militiamen.

The Iraqi government has denounced the attacks by the militias as “terrorist acts” and the US strikes as an “infringement to Iraqi sovereignty”.

American troops make up the largest contingent of foreign forces based in Iraq as part of the international coalition formed to defeat ISIS. They stayed on after ISIS was defeated to help Iraqi forces mop up sleeper cells and prevent the group's resurgence.

“We are in the process of reorganising this relationship,” Mr Al Sudani said at a press conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain, which also has troops in Iraq.

“With the presence of capable Iraqi forces, the Iraqi government is heading towards ending the presence of the international coalition forces."

Iraq says these are not combat troops but security advisers supporting Iraqi security forces with training, consultancy and intelligence gathering.

“We have stressed the commitment to the legal authorisation granted by previous governments for this presence,” Mr Al Sudani said.

This mandate “must be within the framework of supporting security forces in areas of training and advice without exceeding the limits to engage in military operations as it constitutes a violation to the Iraqi sovereignty, and that is something rejected”, he said.

The US says it is responding in self defence.

“I directed the strikes in order to protect and defend our personnel who are in Iraq conducting military operations pursuant to the 2001 Authorisation for Use of Military Force,” President Joe Biden said in a letter to Congress about the latest US air strikes.

He said Monday's strikes “were taken to deter future attacks and were conducted in a manner designed to limit the risk of escalation and minimise civilian casualties".

In 2003, the US led an international coalition to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, claiming it was developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

No such weapons were found and the invasion plunged Iraq into chaos.

The US withdrew from Iraq, leaving behind a small number of troops to protect its embassy and to train and assist Iraqi forces. At its peak in 2007, the US military presence included 170,000 soldiers.

Foreign combat troops returned in 2014, when ISIS seized about a third of the country as the US-trained Iraqi security forces melted away.

After the defeat of ISIS in Iraq by the end of 2017, the US started to reduce the number of its troops – from about 5,000 to 2,500 – along with other countries from the international coalition.

Since then, Iran-backed Shiite militias and Tehran have called for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Iraq-Spain relations

Spain's Prime Minister landed in Baghdad late on Wednesday with a delegation including representatives of major Spanish companies.

"My country, always at the request of the Iraqi authorities, will support the unity, sovereignty and stability of Iraq," said Mr Sanchez during a press conference with Mr Al Sudani on Thursday.

Mr Al Sudani said both sides agreed on preparing a one-year agenda to promote a strategic partnership.

Mr Sanchez said their countries would issue a joint declaration outlining areas for co-operation.

An Iraq-Spain Joint Committee meeting in mid 2024 will be "an important station to push the relations forward", he said.

Mr Sanchez visited Spanish troops at a military base located in Baghdad's high security Green Zone, where he thanked them on behalf of Spanish society for their "efforts and sacrifices in favour of international security and stability".

"In Iraq, Spain has demonstrated for many years now our solid commitment to something that seems to have been questioned in recent years: multilateralism," he said.

Iraq endured decades of war, UN-imposed economic sanctions under Saddam, and political and security instability after the 2003 invasion. The war with ISIS left large areas of the north and west in ruins, and millions of Iraqis are still without access to clean water, adequate electricity supply and proper health care.

Iraq appealed for about $88 billion for reconstruction at an international donor summit in Kuwait in 2018, but received pledges of only $30 billion in loans and investment.

Updated: December 28, 2023, 3:59 PM