US starts troops drawdown from Iraq
The downsize comes ahead of Iraqi elections in May
Iraq's government announced on Monday that US troops have started to downsize following Baghdad's declaration of victory over ISIL.
Weapons, equipment and dozens of soldiers have been transported out of the country to Afghanistan, according to western contractors at a US-led coalition base in Iraq.
Government spokesman, Saad Al Hadithi, told the National that "American presence will be reduced gradually now that the battle against Daesh has ended."
Mr Al Hadithi said the development is still in "early stages" and that Iraq will continue "to seek American support, while coordination is still ongoing."
"The US will maintain to assist Iraqi forces in accordance to their request, we needed their support in defeating Daesh," he said.
Iraqi lawmakers told reporters that the US-led coalition and Baghdad's central government have formed an agreement to withdraw troops for the first time since the war against ISIL was launched over three years ago, but declined to disclose the exact size of the drawdown.
US Army Colonel and coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told reporters that a "continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq."
Michael Stephens, a research fellow at London's RUSI think tank, believes the US' reasoning is mostly related to the country's needs. "Extended deployments on the ground are expensive, and given that combat operations are now greatly reduced, there is no need for such a big deployment."
According to Mr Stephens, there was never any question whether the US would retain current force levels in a post-ISIL environment.
The move gives Iraq's prime minister Haider Al Abadi "the space to say that he has encouraged the US to lessen its presence in the country, and as a result takes some wind out of the sails of harder line Shia militias who consistently demand that the US leave Iraq immediately," Mr Stephens told The National.
The drawdown will "serve prime minister Abadi well in the forthcoming elections, burnishing his nationalist credentials and putting more meat on his claims of victory in the war against IS," Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore said.
The drawdown reflects positive shifts in Iraq's security situation, despite recent operations to push remaining ISIL cells out of some areas, including Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Anbar and Diyala.
"Insurgent violence persists and is likely to do so for some time but militants are no longer able to threaten cities and hold urban terrain. The drawdown may also be part of the change in focus that the US defense secretary announced last month: away from terrorism and more towards 'great power competition'," Mr Haddad told The National.
A Pentagon report released in November said there were approximately nine thousand US troops in Iraq as of late September.
Updated: February 5, 2018 05:37 PM