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Joe Biden announces end of US combat role in Iraq

The president outlined a "new phase" of US involvement in Iraq, which will still involve "dealing with ISIS." By the end of 2021, the US combat mission in the country will be over, almost two decades after it began.

USA I Joe Biden and Mustafa al-Kadhimi

Biden and al-Kadhimi met at the Oval Office where they discussed the 'next phase' in military operations

US President Joe Biden on Monday said the United States will end its combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year.

He said US counter-terrorism cooperation with Iraq would continue.

His comments came as he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House.

Biden said it would be a "new phase" for the 2,500 troops still deployed in the country.

"Our role in Iraq will be ... to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS as it arises but we're not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat zone," Biden told reporters.

US troops have played an active role in fighting the so-called 'Islamic State.' The new plan stops short of a full-scale withdrawal, instead the US military will remain in a training, logistics and advisory capacity.

A US official spoke earlier on Monday of "a new phase in the campaign in which we very much complete the combat mission against 'ISIS' and shift to an advisory and training mission by the end of the year."

Prime minister facing domestic pressure

Al-Kadhimi has been under pressure from armed groups close to Iran who wish to see American soldiers out of the country. The decision comes three months before Iraqis head to the polls.

Years of war, insurgency, corruption and poverty have ravaged Iraq. Protesters have railed against the lack of proper infrastructure — blackouts have become frequent occurrences, made worse by extreme summer heat.

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The move is seen as an attempt by al-Kadhimi to garner support from the pro-Tehran groups. These militias have repeatedly carried out attacks against US forces, but they in turn have suffered from US retaliation.

Experts consider it unlikely that Biden will completely abandon Iraq due to the influence of neighboring Iran. "It doesn't seem likely that the number of US troops in Iraq will be reduced dramatically," Hamdi Malik of the Washington Institute think tank told AFP.

Ramzy Mardini from Chicago's Pearson Institute added that the meeting between the two leaders may be "shaped" to make al-Kadhimi look good domestically, without changing much in reality.

Iraq still under threat

The announcement comes as US troops are carrying out a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, 20 years after first invading. The central Asian country has seen rapid gains by the Taliban even before western forces finalize their departure.

The anonymous official said that Iraqi forces were "battle tested" and "capable" of defending their own country.

Al-Kadhimi also expressed his belief that Iraqi security forces can manage on their own. "There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil," he told the Associated Press.

Nevertheless, 'IS' remains a threat. Last week, a roadside bomb killed at least 30 people at a market in Baghdad.

Iraqi soldiers and civilians inspecting the site of the bombing at the al-Wahilat market in the Sadr district of Baghdad. There is blackened debris all over the floor. Lots of men are standing around while an armed soldier walks towards the camera.

The so-called 'Islamic State' has been severely weakened but violent cells still exist around the country

jsi, ab/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters)