President Joe Biden on Monday sealed a deal with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to formally end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, more than 18 years after U.S. troops were sent to the country.
At their meeting, Biden said that US counter-terrorism cooperation will continue and America’s role in Iraq will be dealing with training and with ISIS, adding that the US will maintain its strong commitment to strengthening its partnership with Iraq and that the US will send out COVID-19 vaccines to the country “quickly”.
This comes as Biden ramps up the completion of US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan by August. Both wars in the Middle East started under the watch of ex-President George W. Bush.
Biden and Kadhimi met in the Oval Office for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.
“Our role in Iraq will be … to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS as it arises, but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” Biden told reporters as he and Kadhimi met.
There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq focusing on countering the remnants of Islamic State. The U.S. role in Iraq will shift entirely to training and advising the Iraqi military to defend itself.
The shift is not expected to have a major impact since the United States has already moved toward focusing on training Iraqi forces.
In March 2003, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq based on charges that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s government possessed weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was ousted from power, but such weapons were never found.
For several years the US mission has been dominated by helping defeat IS militants in Iraq and Syria.
“Nobody is going to declare mission accomplished. The goal is the enduring defeat of ISIS,” a senior administration
official told reporters ahead of Mr Kadhimi’s visit.
The official added that by the end of the year “we think we’ll be in a good place to really formally move into an advisory and capacity-building role”.
The senior administration official would not say how many U.S. troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training.