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Iraqi National Security Advisor welcomes US troop drawdown

In a meeting with the United States’ ambassador to Baghdad on Thursday, Iraq’s National Security Advisor “welcomed” the Pentagon’s decision to almost halve the number of its troops in Iraq, state media has reported.

At the meeting, National Security Advisor Qassim al-Aaraji and US ambassador Matthew Tueller discussed the Pentagon’s Wednesday announcement that it would be pulling more than 2,000 of its 5,200 troops in Iraq out of the country in September.

“They discussed issues of common interest, and the current situation in Iraq, as well as the Pentagon’s recent decision to draw down US troops in Iraq to 3,000 non-combat military troops,” state media reported.

US forces pulled out of Iraq in 2011, but were invited back to Iraq in 2014 by the Iraqi government in order to oust the Islamic State (ISIS), which had seized territory across Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Although the Iraqi government announced the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December 2017, remnants of the group ambush security forces, kidnap and execute suspected informants, and extort money from vulnerable rural populations, particularly in territories disputed by Baghdad and Erbil. US troops stationed in Iraq mainly advise and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS remnants.

Getting US troops to leave Iraq has been a demand of Shiite political parties backed by Iran for years. Calls intensified after the assassination of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi) in a US airstrike in Baghdad early January.

In a much anticipated US-Iraq strategic dialogue meeting in Washington, prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met with US President Donald Trump last month to discuss the future of American troops in Iraq.

“We [the US and Iraq] continue to work in close coordination to ensure that the Islamic State (ISIS) is rendered incapable of posing a threat to Iraq and every other nation,” read a joint statement from Trump and Kadhimi published on August 21.

In Thursday’s meeting, Tueller told Aaraji that Washington would continue to support Iraq’s justice ministry in dealing with ISIS prisoners held in Iraqi prisons, state media said.

In a March 22 analysis, the Associated Press estimated at least 19,000 ISIS members, affiliates, and terror offenders are currently held in Iraqi detention. An investigation published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in December 2017 put the number at 20,000.

Tueller also told Aaraji that the US would “support Iraq regarding al-Hol camp,” state media said, without providing further details.

Al-Hol in northeastern Syria is home to some 70,000 people, mostly ISIS-linked women and children taken to the camp by Kurdish-led forces during the campaign to oust the group from its last holdout in the Syrian town of Baghouz in March 2019. Tens of thousands of al-Hol’s residents are Iraqis. Source