United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Thursday signaled an openness to reducing America’s military presence in Iraq, saying meetings set to begin soon between leaders from the two countries will allow for a “transition to an enduring bilateral security partnership” that builds on years of joint operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In a statement released by the Pentagon, Sec. Austin stated that U.S. troops remain in Iraq at the invitation of the government in Baghdad and that meetings between officials and the IS-Iraq Higher Military Commission will explore the presence of American forces in the country while considering the threat ISIS poses.
U.S. military positions in Iraq and Syria have been attacked at least 151 times since Oct. 7 by Islamic Republic of Iran-backed terrorist groups. Pentagon officials note that around 2,500 American troops remain in Iraq, and 900 are deployed to Syria to prevent a resurgence of ISIS.
Following the latest attacks by Iranian-backed terrorist groups, Iraqi officials have increasingly expressed alarm to U.S. officials, publicly condemning American retaliation against such attacks.
Iraqi officials have publicly acknowledged the beginning of the meetings but left it unclear whether they will ask for the American forces to leave Baghdad. Following the ongoing terrorist attacks against U.S. forces, the Iraqi parliament voted to eject American U.S. military forces from the country.
Iraqi Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that “in line with the growing capabilities of the Iraqi forces,” the Iraqi government is announcing “the success of continuous negotiations” about future steps that began in August.
The Foreign Ministry added that the ongoing discussions are for the creation of a “specific and clear timeline determining the duration of the presence of the international coalition advisors in Iraq, initiating a gradual and thoughtful reduction of their presence on Iraqi soil, concluding the military mission against [the Islamic State], and transitioning to comprehensive bilateral relations with coalition countries in politics, economics, culture, security, and military affairs, aligning with the vision of the Iraqi government.”
Following the October 7 massacre at the hands of the Iranian-backed Hamas terrorist group against the Jewish state of Israel, Tehran has called upon Muslim nations like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf States to cease ties with the U.S. over its support for Israel against Hamas.