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US and Iraq to meet in June to discuss troop withdrawal: Report

Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf said meeting will also focus on Iraq's economy and political future
US and Iraqi soldiers at an Iraqi base in Mosul during a US handover ceremony to Iraqi forces on 30 March (AFP/File photo)

The United States and Iraq have agreed to meet in June to discuss the possible withdrawal of US troops from the country, Iraq's military spokesman has said. 

Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf told Kuwait's al-Sabah newspaper on Sunday that Baghdad and Washington would negotiate a timetable for US withdrawal from Iraq at the meeting. 

"The United States has significantly reduced its forces in Iraq as a goodwill gesture, and there is understanding and positive signs from the American side," he said.

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Khalaf added that at the June meeting, it is expected that both sides will discuss "relations between the two countries in the economic, cultural, political and security fields established within the Strategic Framework Agreement".

"The security relationship between Iraq and the United States will continue in the context of training and exchange of experiences even if the withdrawal decision is implemented," he said.

In January, Iraq's parliament passed a resolution to expel all foreign troops in Iraq, stipulating that foreign forces also be barred from using Iraq's airspace and territorial waters "for any reason".

The resolution came in response to a US drone strike in Baghdad days earlier, which killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani as well as the deputy head of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. 

Complete withdrawal remains unlikely

The US State Department did not immediately respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment. 

A complete withdrawal from Iraq remains unlikely. Currently, there are around 7,500 foreign troops - mostly American - in Iraq as part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group.

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The US has handed over control of at least four military bases to Iraqi security forces in recent months.

But coalition forces say the base transfers are a result of success against IS, not in response to the Iraqi government's demand or recent attacks on US installations.

"These pre-planned base transfers are not related to recent attacks against Iraqi bases hosting coalition troops, or the ongoing Covid-19 situation in Iraq," the US coalition said in a news release earlier this month. 

Instead of a withdrawal, coalition forces have been consolidating troops across a number of smaller outposts to bigger bases. Coalition officials say Washington's plan is to continue operations in Iraq "from fewer bases and with fewer people". 

For his part, US President Donald Trump has threatened Iraq with sanctions if it were to order American troops out of the country. Trump also said that Baghdad would have to pay Washington for the cost of a US-supported airbase there if it were to kick out US forces.  

In March, the US set up at least four new batteries of Patriot air defence systems in Iraq, but it was not immediately clear whether the US had ultimately received the Iraqi government's approval for the systems' deployments.

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