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US and Iraq to discuss future military presence in coming weeks: Pentagon official

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Military and defense officials from the U.S. and Iraq are expected to continue talks on the future of U.S. military presence in Iraq in the coming weeks, a U.S. official tells Fox News. The Defense Department is expected to announce the resumed talks later this week, the official said. 

The U.S. currently has about 2,500 troops in Iraq for the Defeat ISIS mission. These troops are stationed at several bases throughout the country and have come under more than 60 attacks from Iranian proxy groups in Iraq since October 17. The U.S. has carried out several strikes targeting these Iranian-proxy groups, including airstrikes on Tuesday, targeting two Kataib Hezbollah headquarters buildings and an intelligence facility, according to a U.S. defense official. 

The strikes have put pressure on the government of Iraq to question the U.S. presence in the region. On January 4th, the U.S. killed a militia leader in Baghdad who helped carry out several of these attacks on U.S. forces. According to U.S. Central Command, the U.S. drone strike on January 4th targeted and killed Mushtaq Jawad Kazim al Jawari. He was a leader of Iranian-proxy group Harakat al Nujaba and was involved in planning and carrying out attacks against U.S. service members in Iraq.

This specific strike is in part what led the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia’ Al-Sudani to call for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from the country just a day later on January 5th. 

‘We are in the process of setting a date to begin a dialogue through a tripartite committee that was formed to determine arrangements to end this presence. This is a commitment which the government will not back down from and will not neglect any matter that completes national sovereignty over land, sky, and waters of our dear Iraq,’ Al-Sudani said. 

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in a Defense Department briefing on January 4th shortly after the militia leader was killed by the U.S. strike, ‘Our focus is going to continue to remain on the defeat ISIS mission. But again, we’re not going to hesitate to protect our forces if they’re threatened.’

The Pentagon has not received any requests to end its presence in the region, despite the words from the Iraqi prime minister, multiple defense officials tell Fox News. 

When asked if the U.S. has been asked to withdraw its troops from Iraq, Ryder told reporters, ‘I’m not aware of any plans. We continue to remain very focused on the Defeat ISIS mission under CJTF-OIR, as we advise and assist the Iraqis. And as you’ve heard us say many times before, we’re there at the invitation of the government of Iraq.’

The upcoming talks between the U.S. and Iraq were planned in August, well before Hamas invaded Israel and the attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq began. The talks could have a different outcome than what would have been expected back in August.

In August 2023, before the conflict in the Middle East started, the U.S. and Iraq agreed to start a ‘Higher Military Commission’ or HMC for talks. According to a Defense Department press release from that time, ‘The United States and the Republic of Iraq intend to consult on a future process, separate from the JSCD and inclusive of the Coalition, to determine how the Coalition’s military mission will evolve on a timeline according to the following factors: the threat from ISIS, operational and environmental requirements, and ISF capability levels.’

The talks will be in the form of a working group with both defense and military officials from the Pentagon, the U.S. official said. 

This post appeared first on FOX NEWS

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