US-Iraq to keep talking troop withdrawals as Taji base handed back

Iraq's foreign minister said the two nations would set up a technical committee to discuss troop numbers and deployments

Maj. Gen. Kenneth P. Ekman, Deputy Commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, signs documents with Brigadier General Salah Abdullah during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, in the base north of Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
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Talks on a final communique between the US and Iraq at last week's dialogue on military forces were tough but resulted in breakthroughs, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said on Saturday.

The following day, officials began setting up a committee to discuss the future of US operations in Iraq as American-led coalition troops pulled out of Taji military base and Iraqi security forces took over, he said.

Mr Hussein was speaking as the Iraqi delegation led by Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi concluded a state visit to Washington.

"It was agreed that the issue of deployment will be done by specialists and technicians from both sides to study and to approve the timing of the withdrawal,” Mr Hussein said.

“We also spoke about regional issues that would affect Iraq’s international dynamics, as well as our differences and the tensions between Washington and Tehran, all of which affects them,” Mr Hussein said.

US-Iraq relations have been strained in recent months, caused in part by Iran-backed militia attacks on US troops stationed in Iraq.

US-led troops hand back Taji military base to Iraq

US-led troops hand back Taji military base to Iraq

Demands for US troops to withdraw from the country increased after a US drone strike in January killed Iranian General Qassem Suleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis.

In response, Iraq's parliament voted on a five-point action plan that would require the Iraqi government to end the presence of foreign troops and withdraw its request for assistance from the anti-ISIS global coalition.

New legislation would have to be drawn up to end the agreement and many analysts did not believe politicians will formally demand the US's exit but rather allow the administration to negotiate a new security arrangement.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump told Mr Al Kadhimi that US troops would be leaving Iraq shortly.

Mr Hussein said that “Iraq is still in need of assistance when it comes to fighting terrorism, especially in training and arming forces. This issue will be agreed upon by the technical committee.”

About 5,200 US soldiers have been stationed in the country since an invitation by the Iraqi government in 2014 to support local troops fighting ISIS.

But in recent months, US forces have been withdrawing from bases and handing them back to Iraq. Coalition and US forces are largely consolidating into central bases and still work with the Iraqi army in counter-ISIS operations.

The exit from Taji military base north of Baghdad on Sunday was the eighth installation to be handed over to Iraqi forces since March.

Coalition leaders "transferred $347 million of property and equipment to Iraqi security forces due to their success against ISIS", Col Myles Caggins, the spokesman for the international coalition against ISIS, said on Twitter.

The Taji base, about 15 kilometres north of Baghdad, hosts foreign troops whose mission is to train and advise Iraqi security forces.

It has been under attack by unknown groups in recent months.

The overall drawdown meant coalition forces have moved into a smaller number of bases and reduced personnel. The coalition has not provided details or numbers.

Coalition officials said the troop cuts and relocation of units was because Iraqi forces were mostly capable of containing the threat from ISIS militants on their own.