Washington is set to engage in discussions with Baghdad aimed at concluding a U.S.-led international military coalition in Iraq, while also exploring ways to enhance diplomatic ties, as stated by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday.
The U.S.-Iraq Higher Military Commission’s working group meetings will commence shortly to initiate the process agreed upon by both nations during discussions in Washington last summer.
The primary objective of these meetings is to facilitate the transition toward a long-lasting bilateral security partnership between Washington and Baghdad, reflecting the strong U.S. commitment to regional stability and Iraqi sovereignty, according to Austin’s statement.
The talks were formally announced in a letter to Iraq’s foreign minister on Wednesday, initially insisting that Iran-backed Iraqi militant groups cease their attacks on U.S. troops as a prerequisite for the discussions, though this condition has been reconsidered.
These militant groups have targeted U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria following the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, leading to retaliatory strikes by the U.S. Currently, around 2,500 American troops, along with hundreds from European countries, are stationed in Iraq to support security forces in combating the Islamic State.
The working groups, comprised of military and defense professionals, will concentrate on developing a transition timeline. This timeline will account for factors such as the threat posed by ISIS, operational and environmental requirements, and the capabilities of Iraqi security forces, according to the statement.
Subsequent to these discussions, the working group will provide advice to the coalition on the most effective evolution of its mission, ensuring the prevention of an ISIS resurgence, as outlined by Austin.
In early January, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani conveyed to American officials in private that he wishes to negotiate the retention of U.S. forces in the country, despite previously indicating an intention to commence their removal, as reported by POLITICO.
Senior advisers to the prime minister clarified that his public declaration was an effort to appease domestic political audiences, and he remains committed to negotiating the future presence of the coalition in Iraq, according to a State Department cable obtained by POLITICO.