BAGHDAD: The US-led coalition against the Islamic State group has finished its combat mission in Iraq and will shift to a training and advisory role, the alliance and its host country said Thursday.
The change of the mission for around 2,500 American troops stationed in the war-battered country by the end of the year was first announced by US President Joe Biden in July when he hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.
The Iraqi government has been under pressure from powerful pro-Iranian political groups with armed wings that have vehemently demanded all US troops leave the country.
“We are officially announcing the end of the coalition forces’ combat mission,” national security adviser Qassem al-Aaraji wrote on Twitter.
“The relationship with the international coalition continues in the areas of training, advising and capacity building” of Iraqi forces, he added.
Aaraji was speaking after a meeting between the coalition and the Joint Operations commanders of the Iraqi security forces.
The coalition confirmed it had “completed its transition to a non-combat mission”.
In a statement, it said Iraqi forces “protect Coalition personnel who are invited guests” and that while “Coalition personnel do not have a combat role, they maintain the inherent right of self-defence”.
In effect, the about 2,500 US and 1,000 other coalition troops deployed in Iraq will remain in the country. They have been acting as advisers and trainers since mid-2020.
IS established a so-called caliphate across swathes of Syria and Iraq from 2014.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 after offensives by Iraqi forces with the support of the coalition that has included more than 80 countries, among them Britain, France and several Arab nations.
Even though Iraq declared victory against the IS jihadists in December 2017, the group’s remnants still carry out attacks against security forces and civilians and in recent weeks killed several Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.