Iraq PM hints at progress on coalition troop withdrawal
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has said that his government has succeeded in "imposing legal and time-based mechanisms" for the withdrawal of US and Coalition forces deployed in the country to fight Islamic State extremists.
In a meeting with military officers Al-Kadhimi praised the preparedness of Iraqi soldiers to lead the combat role against IS, while acknowledging their remained "challenges and needs" to be addressed before assuming that role fully, Iraqi media reported.
"Our security forces are a pillar of the nation and a symbol of Iraq and its national identity. They carry the historic responsibility of restoring the strength of the nation and thwarting anyone who seeks to undermine that strength," he said.
Abbas Sarout, a member of the Iraqi parliamentary security and defence council, said on Saturday that a joint committee - which emerged following the recent US-Iraqi strategic dialogue - was focusing on three areas: the withdrawal of US troops, closing down foreign military bases, and defining the role of troops who remain behind in support roles.
The first round of strategic dialogue started in June last year under the administration of former US President Donald Trump, which held two rounds of talks.
The third installment, the first under the Biden administration, concluded earlier this month with a promise to wind down the American military presence.
The move comes amid near daily rocket fire on US forces attributed to Iran-backed militias, which led Biden to order airstrikes of affiliated camps in Syria.
On Wednesday, rocket fire from a drone targeted an airport where US soldiers are based in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Observers see the US reticence to continue operating in Iraq as something which will embolden Iran, given that the latest round of strategic dialogue was called, partly in response to pro-Tehran political factions lobbying for the remaining US troops to leave Iraq.
Early this month, the Iraqi government under Al-Kadhimi approved the expansion of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) by an extra 30,000 recruits.
The Biden administration has yet to respond to the expansion of the PMF, which was recognised as a branch of the Iraqi armed forces in 2017.