WASHINGTON — The United States and Iraq expect to begin formal talks soon to wind down the mission of a U.S.-led military coalition formed to fight the Islamic State group in Iraq, both governments said Thursday.
The U.S. has had a continuous presence in Iraq since its 2003 invasion. Although all U.S. combat forces left in 2011, thousands of troops returned in 2014 to help the government of Iraq defeat IS.
In the years since, the presence of U.S. forces, who have remained there to conduct counter-IS missions and training, has been a lightning rod for an increasingly influential faction of Iran-aligned militias and politicians in the country.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the discussions will take place as part of a higher military commission that was agreed upon last summer — before the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7 rocked the region — and will discuss the “transition to an enduring bilateral security partnership between Iraq and the United States.”
Iraq's foreign ministry in a statement said Baghdad aims to “formulate a specific and clear timetable that specifies the duration of the presence of international coalition advisors in Iraq” and to “initiate the gradual and deliberate reduction of its advisors on Iraqi soil,” eventually leading to the end of the coalition mission and a “move to comprehensive bilateral political and economic relations with the coalition…