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Troop levels up for debate in US, Iraqi negotiations this week

Troop levels up for debate in US, Iraqi negotiations this week
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The top U.S. general in the Middle East on Wednesday predicted that talks this week between U.S. and Iraqi officials will not lead to the ousting of U.S. troops from the country.

“It is my belief that the government of Iraq is going to want to retain U.S. and coalition forces,” U.S. Central Command head Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said Wednesday during a web broadcast put on by the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Institute.

“And as you know, from my perspective, we're in Iraq to finish the defeat of ISIS and to support Iraq as they finish that defeat and come to a final, final victory against it.”

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Troop levels will be one of the issues under discussion as Washington and Baghdad start a new round of strategic talks on Thursday. The resurgence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will be the lead topic. 

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoDeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Pompeo not ruling out 2024 White House bid Houthis: US sanctions prolonging war in Yemen MORE said in April that the talks will include “all strategic issues between our two countries,” and will be led on the U.S. side by David Hale, the undersecretary of State for political affairs, as well as representatives from the Defense, Treasury and Energy departments.

Relations have become strained between the United States and Iraq since late last year, when the country became the backdrop to U.S.-Iran tensions, leading to increased calls in Iraq for a U.S. military withdrawal.

The Iraqi parliament passed a nonbinding resolution in January calling for a withdrawal of American forces after a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani took place near the Baghdad airport that month.

And in March, rocket attacks the United States blamed on Iranian-backed militia killed two U.S. troops and a British service member at Iraq’s Camp Taji base.

The coronavirus pandemic has also complicated the war zone, with the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq in March withdrawing some troops in part over the illness. 

In the midst of this, ISIS-related attacks have steadily crept back up following the Trump administration’s March 2019 declaration that the terrorist group had been defeated. The threat of an ISIS resurgence well as a check against Iran has kept U.S. troops in the country.

Today, there are roughly 5,200 US troops in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and carry out counterterrorism missions.