Iraq, US resume talks on US-led coalition withdrawal

Iraq said Sunday it had resumed talks with the United States on the future of the anti-extremist coalition, expressing hope that they would not be disrupted and lead to an outcome soon.

A first round of talks opened on January 27 but was swiftly suspended after a drone attack killed three US military personnel at a base in Jordan the following day, leading to US reprisal strikes.

“The supreme Iraqi military commission resumed on Sunday its meetings with international coalition forces in Baghdad,” General Yehia Rasool, military spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, said in a statement.

“As long as nothing disrupts the serenity of these talks, the meetings will take place on a regular basis in order to achieve the commission’s works as soon as possible,” he added.

Rasool said the meetings were aimed at setting up a “timeline” for a “progressive pullout” of coalition forces from Iraq, leading to the end of its mission.

The US-led military coalition was formed in 2014 to fight ISIS– the year the extremist group overran nearly a third of Iraq’s territory and swathes of neighboring Syria.

US and allied troops have been targeted more than 165 times in the Middle East since mid-October, in attacks linked to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The majority of the attacks have been claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups angered by US support for Israel.

The United States has retaliated with several deadly strikes targeting these groups.

Washington has 2,500 soldiers in Iraq and some 900 troops in Syria as part of the coalition against ISIS.

Its troops in Iraq are deployed at the invitation of Baghdad, but those in Syria are stationed in areas outside Syrian government control.

Currently US troops in Iraq provide assistance to government forces to prevent a re-emergence of ISIS terrorists.

In Sunday’s statement, Rasool said discussions were now focusing on evaluating the threat posed by ISIS, which has been defeated in Iraq and Syria but still has sleeper cells that carry attacks.

The talks were also centering on “the capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces,” he added.

In order to replace the international coalition, Iraqi authorities want to engage in bilateral military cooperation with the member states contributing to the force.

But the process is likely to be long. A statement Thursday from the coalition said the objective now was “to assess” the progress made in defeating the terrorists, and to “discuss the future transition” of the coalition’s mission.

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