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US firm on troop reduction, no permanent presence in Iraq

US firm on troop reduction, no permanent presence in Iraq

The US is keen to reduce its forces in Iraq and also confirmed that it does not want a permanent military presence in the country, according to a joint US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue statement.

The statement on the website of the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Iraqi delegation was led by the Ministry's Senior Deputy Minister Abdul-Karim Hashim, while the American delegation was led by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.

The strategic dialogue was held via video conference and covered security and counter-terrorism, economics and energy, political issues, and cultural relations. The two sides recognized the progress in combating the Islamic State (IS) and agreed that "the US would continue reducing forces from Iraq and discuss with the government of Iraq the status of remaining forces".

"The US reiterated that it does not seek nor request permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq," the statement said, adding that the Iraqi government in turn committed to protect the international coalition forces and their bases in the country, and that the presence of foreign forces will be decided upon by the two countries.

On economic and energy issues, the two sides agreed that Iraq is facing enormous challenges due to the twin crises of Covid-19 pandemic and the decline in oil prices. The US discussed providing economic advisors to work directly with the Iraqi government to help advance international support for Iraq's reform efforts, as well as the potential for investment projects involving world-class American firms in the energy and other sectors, according to the statement.

On politics, the US vowed to assist the Iraqi government in "carrying out humanitarian efforts, restoring stability, rebuilding the country, and organizing free, fair and credible elections." The two governments plan to hold in-depth discussions over the same issues at another meeting for a higher coordination committee for the strategic dialogue likely slated for July in Washington DC.

Baghdad Washington relations have been on a downslide since January 3 after an American drone attack killed Qasem Soleimani's convoy at Baghdad airport. Soleimani is former commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of Iraq's paramilitary Hashd Shaabi forces..