President Joe Biden is to end the US military’s combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year after coming to an agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
During a meeting with the Iraqi leader on Monday, Mr Biden said that US counter-terrorism cooperation will continue and America’s role in Iraq will be dealing with training and with ISIS.
He said his administration is committed to strengthening its partnership with Iraq and the US will send out COVID-19 vaccines to the country “quickly”.
The two leaders have come to an agreement about the US ending its combat mission in 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 zone,” Mr Biden told reporters.
It comes more than 18 years after US troops were sent to the country and follows Mr Biden’s withdrawal of the last American forces in Afghanistan by the end of August, as the Democratic president completes US combat missions in the two wars that then-President George W Bush began.
Mr Biden and Mr Kadhimi met in the Oval Office for their in-person meeting as part of a strategic dialogue between the US and Iraq.
Currently, there are 2,500 US troops in Iraq focusing on countering the remnants of Islamic State.
Their focus will shift entirely to training and advising the Iraqi military to defend itself – but is not expected to have a major impact since the US has already moved toward focusing on training Iraqi forces.
US troops at the K1 Air Base northwest of Kirkuk in northern Iraq
In 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq based on charges that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s government
possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Hussein was ousted from power, but the 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”.
US soldier at Taji base complex in Iraq
But he would not say how many US troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training.
Earlier this month, US diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks earlier this month as part of a campaign by Iranian-backed militia.
In response, Mr Biden ordered the US to carry out a round of airstrikes against the militia.
The US-Iraqi statement about the new agreement is expected to detail a number of non-military agreements related to health, energy and other matters.
Mr Biden said the US will provide Iraq with 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine under
the global COVAX vaccine-sharing programme – with the doses set to arrive in a couple of weeks.
Mr Biden plans to send 500,000 COVID vaccine doses to Iraq
He added that US will also provide $5.2m (£3.7m) to help fund a UN mission to monitor October elections in Iraq.
“We’re looking forward to seeing an election in October,” Mr Biden said.