Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during a press conference on February 6, 2018 in Baghdad. Photo: PM office/Youtube
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has confirmed that his government and the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS have a gradual plan to downsize the presence of the Coalition forces in the country, although he conceded ISIS still poses a "real danger" on border with Syria.
The announcement comes as PM Abadi is under pressure from Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi — some of which have a history of insurgency against the US forces following the 2003 invasion — to fully withdraw the Americans.
"Today I affirm that there is a project and plan based on [a mutual] agreement to decrease the number of [Coalition] forces gradually," PM Abadi said in his press conference on Tuesday, while explaining that the US government has made contradictory statements in this regard.
US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesperson for the Coalition, explained on Monday that the drawdown will be conditions-based in cooperation with the Iraqi government. He added support for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) includes intelligence sharing and training, and will continue.
"There is still a real danger for the presence of ISIS in Syria. There is still an area that ISIS controls within Syrian territory," PM Abadi said, as he argued that the Coalition and Iraq need one another to fight the global threat posed by the extremist group.
He said their forces are in control of the Iraq-Syria border, but added ISIS remains a threat to Iraq.
"We are in control over the border, but there is a possibility that border infiltration [from Syria] might happen," he said.
He pointed out that the Iraqi government under his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, invited the Coalition, including the United States, to help Iraq defeat ISIS.
The Badr Organization, and Kataib Hizbollah, which are part of the Hashd al-Shaabi and maintain strong links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have called for the full withdrawal of the US forces. The latter has also threatened to use armed forces to drive out the US forces.
Abadi who has announced the Nasr or Victory list to run in the scheduled May 12 elections, had initially signed an alliance agreement with Badr Organization head Hadi al-Amiri to run for the elections on a joint list, but the latter soon decided to leave Abadi's election list.
Amiri heads the Fatih al-Mubin coalition that includes all major Hashd groups.
Abadi said the Coalition forces stationed in Iraq number less than 10,000, adding that the two sides have been engaged in talks for a year to downsize the Coalition forces.
Not all Coalition members disclose the number of their forces or assets deployed in or for Iraq.
"We don't want to leave the mission unaccomplished," Abadi said, about the need to maintain cooperation with the Coalition. "We need great air cover" in the desert areas of Iraq and along the Iraq-Syria border areas.