WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday sealed an agreement formally ending the US combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, more than 18 years after US troops were sent to the country.
Coupled with Biden’s withdrawal of the last American forces in Afghanistan by the end of August, the Democratic president is completing US combat missions in the two wars that then-President George W. Bush began under his watch.
Biden and Kadhimi met in the Oval Office for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.
“Our role in Iraq will be … to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS as it arises, but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” Biden told reporters as he and Kadhimi met.
There are currently 2,500 US troops in Iraq and the role in Iraq will shift entirely to training and advising the Iraqi military to defend itself.
The shift is not expected to have a major impact since the United States has already moved toward focusing on training Iraqi forces.
A US-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003 based on charges that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s government allegedly possessed weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was ousted from power, but such weapons were never found.
“If you look to where we were, where we had Apache helicopters in combat, when we had US special forces doing regular operations, it’s a significant evolution. So by the end of the year we think we’ll be in a good place to really formally move into an advisory and capacity-building role,” the official said.
The senior administration official would not say how many US troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training.
The US-Iraqi statement is expected to detail a number of non-military agreements related to health, energy and other matters.