The U.S. announced the talks in a letter to Iraq’s foreign minister on Wednesday,
Reuters first reported. Washington originally insisted that Iran-backed Iraqi militant groups end their attacks on U.S. troops in the country as a condition of beginning the talks, but have since backed down.
Those groups have attacked U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria multiple times since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, prompting retaliatory strikes by Washington.
About 2,500 American troops, as well as hundreds of service members from other European countries, are stationed in Iraq to assist security forces in the country in the fight against the Islamic State.
Military and defense professionals in the working groups will focus on a transition timeline, taking into consideration the threat posed by ISIS, operational and environmental requirements, and the Iraqi security forces’ capability levels, according to the statement.
After the discussions, the working group will advise the coalition on “the most effective evolution of the … mission, ensuring that ISIS can never resurge,” Austin said.
In early January, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani privately told American officials that he wants to negotiate retaining U.S. forces in the country despite previously saying that he would begin the process of removing them,
Senior advisers to the prime minister told U.S. officials that his declaration was “an attempt to satisfy domestic political audiences” and that Sudani himself “remained committed” to negotiating the coalition’s future presence in Iraq, according to a State Department cable obtained by POLITICO.