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US rejects Iraq request to discuss troop withdrawal

Washington (AFP) – The United States on Friday rejected a request by Iraq’s caretaker prime minister to send a delegation to start preparations to pull out its 5,200 troops in the country.

“At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Iraqi leaders were infuriated by a US drone strike at Baghdad’s airport that killed Iran’s most prominent general and parliament voted Sunday to rescind an invitation to foreign troops.

Caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi asked that the United States send a delegation in a phone call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Abdel Mahdi “requested that delegates be sent to Iraq to set the mechanisms to implement parliament’s decision for the secure withdrawal of (foreign) forces from Iraq,” his office said.

The State Department defended the US troop presence as aimed at fighting the Islamic State group.

“America is a force for good in the Middle East,” Ortagus said in a statement.

“We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous and stable Iraq,” she added.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple dictator Saddam Hussein, sparking bloodshed across the country.

After a withdrawal ordered by former president Barack Obama, US troops were invited back in 2014 to help defeat the extremist Islamic State group.

But under President Donald Trump, Iraq has increasingly become a proxy battleground between the United States and Iran, which has also fought the Islamic State group.

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias have fired rockets at US bases as the Trump administration tries to strangle Iran through sweeping sanctions.

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