Biden hosts Iraqi PM at White House to talk end of US combat mission

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President Biden will welcome Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday to the White House, where the two will announce a planned end to the US military’s combat mission in the country by the end of the year.

The announcement, confirmed by a senior Biden administration official ahead of the Monday afternoon meeting, will be largely symbolic, as the US is expected to continue to have a military presence on the ground in Iraq but shift to an advisory role.

Prior to the change, the United States’ stated purpose in Iraq was to help Baghdad with combating Islamic State militants. Now, the US will serve strictly in an advising and training capacity in the region.

The plan will be spelled out in a broader communique to be issued by the two leaders following a White House meeting Monday afternoon, the senior administration official said, though the process of transitioning from a combat mission had already been in motion.

The official added that Iraqi security forces are “battle tested” and have proved themselves “capable” of protecting their country. Still, they acknowledged that the administration recognizes that ISIS remains a considerable threat.

News of the mission changes comes as the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan remains in motion, a process on which Biden initially placed a Sept. 11 deadline but later pushed up to August.

Biden announced that deadline in April, offering US troops an additional four months from former President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw all troops from the nation by May 1.

Critics of the move have cautioned that it could lead to the creation of a new ISIS, as President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq did in 2011.

In addition, the two leaders will almost certainly discuss the issue of Iran.

A major complication for both sides is the periodic attacks on bases housing US and coalition troops by Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran.

Since re-entering the country in 2014, the US and Iran have used Iraq’s land to fight their battles, with Tehran funding militias that attack US troops in Iraq and Syria.

For its part, Iraq wants to stop hosting the conflict, something Al-Kadhimi noted in an interview with Al-Arabiya, a Saudi TV network, earlier this month.

The meeting comes at a precarious time in the United States’ relationship with Iran.

Last month, Iran’s new President-elect Ebrahim Raisi said he would not meet with Biden and called Iran’s ballistic missile program “non-negotiable.” 

“The U.S. is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran,” Raisi said at his first televised news conference.

Asked if he would meet with the US president, Raisi responded: “No.”

On the nuclear deal, Raisi, a protege of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, demanded the US “lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran.”

Achieving that goal, he added, was “central to our foreign policy.”

The Obama administration brokered the controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. The accord reduced sanctions against Iran in exchange for the country reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium needed to fuel nuclear weapons.

It also capped the purity at which Tehran could refine uranium at 3.67 percent, but did not include limitations on delivery systems and other checks on Iran being able to ultimately produce a nuclear bomb when the deal expires.

The Trump administration withdrew the US from the pact in 2018, with the then-commander-in-chief arguing that “America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail.”

Iran began breaching the deal shortly after, as tensions ratcheted up between Washington and Tehran.

Biden pledged he would re-enter the 2015 deal “as a starting point for follow-on negotiations,” adding that he would only support doing so if Iran pledged to follow strict compliance measures.

Following Biden’s election in November, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country would fully implement the terms of the Obama-era agreement if Biden lifted the Trump-era sanctions, arguing it could be done with “three executive orders.”

The administration has refused, and Tehran has continued to not abide by the agreement, enriching its uranium to upwards of 60 percent purity, its highest level ever.

While 60 percent enriched uranium falls short of the 90 percent purity level needed for viable nuclear weapons, it represents a step toward armament.

With Post wires

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