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The White House informed reporters that the U.S. mission would be shifting gears in Iraq, but did not offer information regarding a potential pullout of troops from the war-torn Middle Eastern nation.
U.S. President Joe Biden revealed on Monday that his country´s partnership with Iraq will continue in the near future while stressing that the American combat mission would be shifting more toward counterterrorism cooperation.
The United States has about 2,500 troops in Iraq, with its forces deployed in the country for much of the past two decades following the 2003 invasion. Troops were temporarily withdrawn in 2011, only to return after the rise of the Daesh (ISIS) terrorist "caliphate." Baghdad announced Daesh’s defeat in 2017, but U.S. forces have remained ever since.
The Monday remarks came amid Oval Office talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Biden also indicated that the role of the American military in the Middle Eastern country will be limited to advising and training as part of a larger effort to ensure Iraqi forces will be able to fight off any spike in tensions with Daesh militant forces.
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During the highly-anticipated meeting, the Biden administration made clear that it intends to deliver doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Iraq, which has been recording thousands of new COVID-19 cases.
Shortly before details of Biden and al-Kadhimi's meeting were disclosed to the media, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during the Monday briefing that shifting missions in Iraq was a "natural step in these ongoing dialogues." "This is a shift in mission, not a removal of our partnership or close engagements with the Iraqi leadership," she stressed at the time.
Psaki further indicated that the White House would not be disclosing details on the number of troops the administration intends to have in Iraq by the end of the year. The press secretary's comments come days after senior US and Iraqi officials told the Wall Street Journal that American troops could be out of Iraq by the end of 2021.
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Talk of U.S. troops being pulled out of Iraq once again has been ongoing for quite some time, more so amid the withdrawal of American forces in nearby Afghanistan. Forces had been temporarily removed from Iraq under the Obama administration; however, they were redeployed following the rise of Daesh forces.
Although the Biden administration has not offered a timeline on such an event, it previously stated that American and Iraqi officials agreed on an eventual withdrawal.