'US to move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan'

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'US to move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan'

The US military will gradually reduce the number of American troops in Iraq, an official in Baghdad said yesterday.

An Iraqi government spokesman confirmed Monday that the U.S. has begun pulling out its forces, following Bagdad's declaration of victory over Daesh (ISIS) in December.

Two Iraqi officials told AP about the agreement which will see American soldiers leaving Iraq for the first time since the fight against the Islamic State (IS) militant group started in 2014.

The spokesman said that coordination with the USA will be continuing, and USA officials have long suggested their presence in Iraq is "permanent", suggesting any drawdown would be limited.

Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri said the United States is relocating members of ISIS terrorist group to Afghanistan after their defeats in Iraq and Syria.

However, the Iraqi government said the process has not officially begun.

The move marks a shift in priorities for the USA after the collapse of the extremists' so-called caliphate late a year ago.

The reported agreement comes three months ahead of Iraqi elections in which the presence of USA troops in the country is expected to be a divisive issue.

The drawdown of USA forces comes just three months ahead of national elections in Iraq, where the indefinite presence of American troops continues to be a divisive issue.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in December in the three-year campaign by Iraqi forces to expel IS jihadists from the vast areas north and west of Baghdad.

Iraqi forces are preparing an operation to consolidate control of an area near the Iran border to be used for the transit of Iraqi oil, two officials said on Monday, highlighting concern about mountainous terrain where two armed groups are active.

In a statement, it gave no specifics but made clear that the focus now will be on consolidating military gains made against IS after more than three years of fighting in Iraq and Syria.

"Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of USA national security", Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month in remarks outlining the strategy.

The terror group surrendered control of 98 percent of its territory in the region and now occupies only two percent of land near the Syrian city of Al-Shaafah, where the strike occurred.

Al-Hadithi stressed to the AP that the drawdown is still in its early stages and at present does not mark the beginning of a complete withdrawal of USA forces.

He told Reuters: "Coordination continues, to maintain (US) assistance to the Iraqi forces in accordance with their requirements".

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