Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi takes a question from a journalist during a press conference in Baghdad on January 8, 2019. Photo: PM office
BAGHDAD – There has been more than a 25 percent reduction in the number of foreign troops on the ground in Iraq, the prime minister said on Tuesday.
“There is a decrease every month. For instance, last September, the number of foreign troops – Americans and non-Americans – in all Iraq was 11,000, but now it is 8,000. There is a decrease,” Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi told reporters in his weekly press conference.
He made the statement in answer to a question about a reported relocation of American forces to Kirkuk’s K1 military base. The commander-in-chief of the armed forces answered that he did not have information of an increase in the number of foreign troops in Kirkuk.
“We have not been informed and have not received reports of the establishment of a new base or entrance of any troops,” he said.
A Peshmerga commander said on Monday that American forces had moved into
Kirkuk’s K1 military base.
The US has roughly 5,200 troops in Iraq and does not plan to pull out of the country like they are doing across the border in Syria.
The US-led coalition against ISIS has brought troops from multiple countries into Iraq to train, advise, and support Iraqi and Peshmerga forces in the war against the extremist group. With ISIS militarily defeated – though still a security threat – in Iraq, the coalition’s mission is now turning to focus on training, to be led by NATO.
“In 2019, the NATO mission in Iraq will take the lead in the 'train the trainer' mission to teach Iraqi military instructors to impart key skills such as countering improvised explosive devices, civil-military planning, armored vehicle maintenance, and military medicine to their trainees,” the coalition said in a published statement on Tuesday.
The coalition has trained more than 173,000 local forces.
Baghdad’s relationship with Washington is strained after Iraqi politicians were outraged when US President Donald Trump dropped into visit American troops without meeting Iraqi leaders.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently in the Middle East. A stop in Baghdad is not on his itinerary, though there is speculation he may make a quick visit.
Abdul-Mahdi said he would be open to meet with Pompeo.
“Of course he is an ally and he represents a friendly country. We have so many common things in the international coalition, [which] helped Iraq to defeat Daesh [ISIS]. We will raise those issues. We will raise how to deepen our relationship with the coalition and how to deal with regional issues all together,” he said.
He added that he would also discuss deepening economic and educational ties.
Though the Americans are bypassing Baghdad, Abdul-Mahdi said the number of foreign delegations visiting the capital has increased and they are staying for longer. He hailed this as a sign that security in Baghdad is improving.
The US withdrawal from Syria has created a security concern for Iraq. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are battling the jihadists in the Euphrates River valley just across the border.
The Iraqi air force occasionally carries out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraqi and coalition forces are stationed on the border.
“We constantly monitor developments on the Iraq-Syria border,” said Abdul-Mahdi. “There is an agreement with the Syrian government and the US-led coalition on the border, fighting Daesh.”