Published: 10:27, March 13, 2024 | Updated: 11:40, March 13, 2024
Iraq: Coalition talks unlikely until after US election
By Reuters

Muslims gather for Iftar meal during the first day of Ramadan at Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

BAGHDAD - Talks between the United States and Iraq on ending the US-led military coalition in the country may not be concluded until after the US presidential election in November, a senior Iraqi government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Washington and Baghdad in January initiated talks to reassess the US-led coalition in Iraq, formed in 2014 to help fight Islamic State (IS) after the extremist Sunni Muslim militant group overran large parts of the country.

The decision to wind up the military coalition came after US forces and Shi'ite Muslim armed groups engaged in tit-for-tat attacks amid regional conflict linked to Israel's five-month-old war in Gaza.

Those clashes have now ceased for over a month to allow breathing space for the negotiations.

The US invaded Iraq in 2003, toppling President Saddam Hussein, before exiting the country in 2011

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Backed by Shi'ite parties and armed groups, the government in Baghdad, a rare ally of both Iran and the US, is trying to prevent the country again becoming a battlefield for foreign powers.

The technical talks via a joint military commission are seen by politicians as a way to buy time in the face of differing views over how US-Iraqi military relations should evolve.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the future of the talks between the United States and Iraq, but US officials in the past have not put a timeline on how long any talks could take.

Hardline Iraqi Shi'ite armed groups have called for an immediate exit of US forces while more moderate Shi'ite factions and Sunni and Kurdish parties are concerned their departure could lead to a power vacuum.

Washington says the coalition's mission needs to be reassessed in light of Islamic State's 2017 defeat in Iraq, but does not view the talks as necessarily entailing a withdrawal of US military advisers from the country.

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The US invaded Iraq in 2003, toppling President Saddam Hussein, before exiting the country in 2011.

The US returned in 2014 at the head of an international coalition to fight Islamic State and there are currently around 2,500 American troops in Iraq along with 900 in Syria on an advise and assist mission.

"I don't think the Americans want a full withdrawal. That is clear," former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a moderate member of Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Coordination Framework, told journalists last week.

"Also, I do not thing there is an Iraqi desire among the political forces to dispense entirely with the Americans - even though there is a feeling today that their presence at this time causes more problems than solutions."