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US general predicts some troops will remain in Iraq

US general predicts some troops will remain in Iraq
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The top U.S. general in the Middle East predicts that a small amount of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

“I believe that going forward, they’re going to want us to be with them,” U.S. Central Command head Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters Tuesday after he met with Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, according to The Associated Press.

“I don’t sense there’s a mood right now for us to depart precipitously. And I’m pretty confident of that.”

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McKenzie’s comments echo those he made last month, when he said he believes that the Iraqi government will want to retain U.S. and coalition forces.

The U.S. first invaded Iraq in 2003, leaving in 2011 but returning in 2014 to help quell the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Today, there are roughly 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and carry out counterterrorism missions.

But 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.

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

Iran responded to Soleimani’s killing by launching a missile attack on al-Asad air base in Iraq, causing traumatic brain injuries in more than 100 U.S. troops.

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.

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U.S.-Iraq talks to take place this month are expected to include discussions on future force levels of U.S. troops in the country as well as ISIS control and ongoing militia attacks.

While al-Kadhimi has pledged to protect American troops and installations from militia attacks, McKenzie said the new president is “negotiating a land mine now” with his government and is “in a very difficult position.”

“Certainly we need some foreign presence in Iraq,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know that it needs to be as big as it is now, because ultimately that’s going to be a political, not a military, decision. But I think the Iraqis know, welcome and value what we do for them now.”