No precise timetable or figures were given. However, the American and Iraqi authorities jointly declared Thursday June 11 that the United States would continue the reduction of its military force in Iraq, deployed to fight the jihadist group Islamic State. “The two countries have taken note of the fact that, in the light of the significant progress made towards the eradication of the threat of IS, in the coming months the United States will continue to reduce its forces in Iraq,” they said. declared.
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No permanent presence
Washington will also “discuss with the Iraqi government the status of the remaining forces,” it said. “The United States has reiterated that it is not seeking or requesting permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq,” said the joint statement. “The Iraqi government is committed to protecting the military personnel of the international coalition” against IS “as well as the Iraqi installations which shelter it, in accordance with international law”.
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This statement was made after a “strategic dialogue” by videoconference (because of the Covid-19), aimed at bringing back some stability in the stormy relations between the two allies. It is an update of the 2008 “dialogue”, when the United States established the conditions for their departure after invading Iraq. Since then, their troops have returned, far fewer in number, against IS. More than two and a half years after the “victory” over the jihadists on the Iraqi side, the thousands of American soldiers in the country (they were 5,200 at the beginning of the year) were again at the heart of the tensions.
Anti-American sentiment soared with the death in January of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant, killed in Baghdad in a raid ordered by President Trump, after the multiplication of rocket attacks against imputed American interests by Washington to pro-Iran forces. In the process, Shiite deputies voted to expel foreign soldiers.
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A new Prime Minister in Iraq
In Baghdad, however, a new Prime Minister has arrived. Former intelligence chief Moustafa al-Kazimi, who is believed to be close to the Americans and his Arab allies, changed the game. The man has taken the reins of a country in the midst of an economic crisis and which is still demanding justice for some 550 demonstrators killed in the repression of an unprecedented revolt. If his predecessor Adel Abdel Mahdi never managed to get an invitation to Washington, the new Prime Minister already has his card for the White House this year, assure Agence France-Presse two government officials.
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“There was a problem of trust with the old cabinet, it has changed,” insists one of them. However, a drastic reduction in American troops seems highly unlikely as the jihadist threat remains present, argue the other countries of the coalition. “Non-Americans in the coalition will only stay in Iraq if the Americans stay,” said a diplomat at Agence France-Presse. Other parties were not invited but were closely following the dialogue: Iran’s allies in Iraq.
Ahmed al-Assadi, spokesman for their parliamentary bloc (leader of the expulsion vote) recently repeated giving the Americans six months to leave. Again, Monday and Wednesday, two rockets hit US soldiers and diplomats in Baghdad as a reminder. The tone is less aggressive, however. The Hezbollah brigades, the most radical pro-Iran faction, have announced that they will not give their position until Thursday.