WASHINGTON — (AP) — Iraq and the U.S.-led military coalition resumed meetings Sunday on how to draw down troops who have been deployed there for years combating the Islamic State.
The first long-awaited meeting took place Jan. 27, but had since been put on pause after Iran-backed militants struck a U.S. outpost in Jordan the very next day with a drone that killed three U.S. service members.
In the weeks since, the U.S. has launched multiple retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria including a strike last week that killed a high-ranking commander of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah militia who the U.S. said is responsible for "directly planning and participating in attacks" on American troops in the region.
Both Iraq and the U.S. had agreed last August to enter into talks to transition U.S. and coalition forces from their long-standing role in assisting Iraq in combating IS. There are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops in the country, and their departure will take into account the security situation on the ground, and the capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces, the Iraq government said in a statement Sunday posted to X, formerly Twitter.
The resumed meetings will continue to chart a path to a new bilateral relationship “as long as nothing disturbs the peace of the talks," Iraq said in its statement.
Iraq has long struggled to balance its ties with the U.S. and Iran, both allies of the Iraqi government but regional archenemies. Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in the wake of Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks, Iran-aligned groups have struck at U.S. facilities in Iraq, Syria and Jordan 170 times, prompting retaliatory airstrikes by the U.S., which blames Kataib Hezbollah for a string of those attacks.
The Iraqi government has angrily condemned U.S. airstrikes against Kataib Hezbollah, which is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces.
The Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, are state-sanctioned, mainly Shiite militias, which have grown into a powerful political faction estimated to have the most seats in the Iraqi parliament.
But the deaths of three U.S. service members at Tower 22 in Jordan was a red line for the U.S. and in the days following the deadly strike, Iran disavowed any knowledge or connection to the attack, and Kataib Hezbollah said it would cease launching attacks in order to not embarrass the Iraqi government.
Notably, there have been no additional strikes against U.S. bases in Iraq since Feb. 4.
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