In recent years Iraq has become a battleground where US-Iranian rivalry has been at its most intense. Relations between Washington and Badgad are not at their best. In fact, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the presence of US troops in the country has not convinced either the population or the country's leaders, despite the fact that the US army is in the Asian country fighting the terrorist threat that has plagued the country for so many years.
However, the meeting between Joe Biden and Mustafa al-Kazemi seeks to return to the path of understanding, at a time when attacks on US military and diplomatic facilities in Iraq are on the rise. The US president is picking up the legacy of the Obama administration, leaving behind the dark years of the US during Donald Trump's presidency.
US President Joe Biden confirmed to reporters in the White House Oval Office in the presence of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi that US combat troops will leave Iraq at the end of the year, although an undetermined number of soldiers will remain in the country to advise and assist the Iraqi army. "We are committed to our security cooperation. Our fight against Daesh is vital to the stability of the region, and our cooperation against terrorism will continue as we enter this new phase," Biden pledged.
The prime minister of a country plagued by violence, poverty and corruption proclaimed that "our nation is now stronger than ever", and that the trip was part of Iraq's efforts to "consolidate a close relationship with the United States, based on mutual respect and bilateral cooperation in various fields", according to a statement issued by the Iraqi prime minister's office. The note further notes that the visit is the 'culmination' of numerous 'strategic dialogues' aimed at 'organising the existing security relationship with the US'.
Since the US assassinated senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad's international airport under the previous Trump administration, the two countries have kept their relationship at an all-time low. US President Joe Biden has sought to dissociate himself from the policies of his predecessor by returning to multilateralism. The meeting between the two leaders is part of this new mentality established by Joe Biden, which seeks consensus and negotiation. The departure of the US army from Iraq comes on top of the already announced withdrawal from Afghanistan, thus putting an end to the military operations initiated by George W. Bush.
He did not, however, specify how many troops would remain in Iraq to continue the fight against Daesh and to confront Shiite militias allied with Tehran, which in recent months have stepped up their attacks on US troops. Earlier this month, 14 rockets were fired at the Ain al-Assad air base, which hosts US troops in western Iraq, and another three landed near the US embassy in Baghdad. These were the latest in a series of attacks on US military and diplomatic facilities in Iraq. The attacks have been attributed to pro-Iranian armed groups under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces.
Currently, since 2014, the United States has maintained around 2,500 soldiers as part of an international coalition aimed at fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria. A presence that has become somewhat uncomfortable in recent years for the Baghdad government, under great pressure from the most extremist Shiite militias that want US troops to disappear, and which has also been greatly clouded by the assassination of senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad's international airport, which led the Iraqi Council of Representatives two days later to pass a non-binding resolution calling for an end to the US military presence in Iraq.
Three months ahead of legislative elections, the head of the Iraqi government hopes to regain some influence over the powerful pro-Iranian factions, which are very hostile to the US presence. The announcement of the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraqi soil would be a victory for the Iraqi prime minister, who would thus satisfy the most extremist Shiite factions and pave the way for the parliamentary elections scheduled for October.