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Biden, Iraq PM: End of Mission in Iraq 07/26 06:29

   President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi are expected 
to announce on Monday that they've come to an agreement to end the U.S. 
military's combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, according to a senior 
Biden administration official.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa 
al-Kadhimi are expected to announce on Monday that they've come to an agreement 
to end the U.S. military's combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, 
according to a senior Biden administration official.

   The plan to shift the American military mission, whose stated purpose is to 
help Iraq defeat the Islamic State group, to a strictly advisory and training 
role by year's end -- with no U.S. troops in a combat role -- will be spelled 
out in a broader communique to be issued by the two leaders following their 
White House meeting on Monday afternoon, said the official, who spoke on the 
condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced plan.

   The official said the Iraqi security forces are "battle tested" and have 
proved themselves "capable" of protecting their country. Still, the Biden 
administration recognizes that IS remains a considerable threat, the official 

   Indeed, the IS terror organization is a shell of its former self since it 
was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017. Still, it has shown it can still 
carry out high-casualty attacks. Last week, the group claimed responsibility 
for a roadside bombing that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens in a 
busy suburban Baghdad market.

   The U.S. and Iraq agreed in April that the U.S. transition to a 
train-and-advise mission meant the U.S. combat role would end, but they didn't 
settle on a timetable for completing that transition. The announcement comes 
less than three months before parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 10.

   Al-Kadhimi faces no shortage of problems. Iranian-backed militias operating 
inside Iraq have stepped up attacks against U.S. forces in recent months, and a 
series of devastating hospital fires that left dozens of people dead and 
soaring coronavirus infections have added fresh layers of frustration for the 

   For al-Kadhimi, the ability to offer the Iraqi public a date for the end of 
the U.S. combat presence could be a feather in his cap ahead of the election.

   Biden administration officials say al-Kadhimi also deserves credit for 
improving Iraq's standing in the Mideast.

   Last month, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah 
al-Sisi visited Baghdad for joint meetings -- the first time an Egyptian 
president has made an official visit since the 1990s, when ties were severed 
after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

   In March, Pope Francis made an historic visit to Iraq, praying among ruined 
churches in Mosul, a former IS stronghold, and meeting with the influential 
Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.

   The U.S. and Iraq have been widely expected to use the face-to-face meeting 
to announce plans for the end of the combat mission, and al-Kadhimi before his 
trip to Washington made clear that he believes it's time for the U.S. to wind 
down the combat mission.

   "There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil," al-Kadhimi 
told The Associated Press.

   The U.S. troop presence has stood at about 2,500 since late last year when 
former President Donald Trump ordered a reduction from 3,000.

   The announcement to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq comes as the U.S. is 
in the final stages of ending its war in Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after 
President George W. Bush launched the war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, 
attacks on the United States.

   The U.S. mission of training and advising Iraqi forces has its most recent 
origins in former President Barack Obama's decision in 2014 to send troops back 
to Iraq. The move was made in response to the Islamic State group's takeover of 
large portions of western and northern Iraq and a collapse of Iraqi security 
forces that appeared to threaten Baghdad. Obama had fully withdrawn U.S. forces 
from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the U.S. invasion.

   The distinction between combat troops and those involved in training and 
advising can be blurry, given that the U.S. troops are under threat of attack. 
But it is clear that U.S. ground forces have not been on the offensive in Iraq 
in years, other than largely unpublicized special operations missions aimed at 
Islamic State group militants.

   Pentagon officials for years have tried to balance what they see as a 
necessary military presence to support the Iraqi government's fight against IS 
with domestic political sensitivities in Iraq to a foreign troop presence. A 
major complication for both sides is the periodic attacks on bases housing U.S. 
and coalition troops by Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran.

   The vulnerability of U.S. troops was demonstrated most dramatically in 
January 2020 when Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on al-Asad air base 
in western Iraq. No Americans were killed, but dozens suffered traumatic brain 
injury from the blasts. That attack came shortly after a U.S. drone strike 
killed Iranian military commander Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia 
commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport.

   The U.S. military mission since 2014 has been largely focused on training 
and advising Iraqi forces. In April, in a joint statement following a 
U.S.-Iraqi meeting in Washington, they declared, "the mission of U.S. and 
coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory 
tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces 
from Iraq" at a time to be determined later.

   Monday's communique is also expected to detail U.S. efforts to assist the 
Iraqi government's COVID-19 response, education system and energy sector.

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