Iraq's history, dominated by internal and external wars, culminated in 2003 with the unilateral invasion of the country by a US-led coalition. Once the war was over, Iraq was placed under a regime of trusteeship under permanent control for an undetermined period of time. However, 18 years after the invasion, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi will travel to the US on an official visit to strengthen bilateral relations and seal a deal for the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2021.
Al-Kazemi said 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. In addition, the note notes that the visit is the "culmination" of numerous "strategic dialogues" with the aim of "organising the existing security relationship with the US", a country that so far maintains a military presence in the Arab country that provides advisory and logistical support in the fight against Daesh. In the communiqué, Al Kazemi does not directly mention the plan that is being finalised, according to US media, whereby US forces will withdraw their combat troops from Iraqi territory by the end of the year and will only have an advisory presence.
During the visit, the parties are expected to discuss joint cooperation in security, energy, health, economy and investment. In addition, they will discuss ways to address the coronavirus pandemic and joint collaboration in a manner that serves the interests of both countries. The White House has indicated that Al Kazemi's visit to Washington comes at a crucial time for the US and Iraq.
The prime minister of a country wracked by violence, poverty and corruption is also seeking a commitment from Washington to at least formally reassess its presence in Iraq. With legislative elections three months away, 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 possible 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.
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, which is under great pressure from the most extremist Shiite militias that want the US troops to disappear, It 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.
Most US troops, sent in 2014 as part of an international coalition to help Baghdad defeat Daesh, have been withdrawn under President Donald Trump. Officially, there are no combat troops, with the US military playing an 'advisory' and 'training' role. Iraq is an important link in the US strategic plan, which directs anti-jihadist coalition operations in neighbouring Syria.
Amid renewed tensions between Iran and the US, there is no question of Washington abandoning the country to Iranian influence, even if the latter still intends to salvage the 2015 international agreement on Iranian nuclear energy, it is clear that the negotiations for a return to the US-Iran nuclear deal are at their most fragile and any act could be decisive for the negotiations to end in failure. According to Hamdi Malik of the Washington Institute, in the context of this tug-of-war, "it is unlikely that the number of US troops in Iraq will be significantly reduced". Similarly, Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago's Pearson Institute, predicts "superficial announcements to serve the political interests of the Iraqi prime minister".