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More than 2,000 US troops to leave Iraq in September, CENTCOM says

The commander of US forces in the Middle East on Wednesday formally announced a long-expected reduction of the number of US troops in Iraq, from more than 5,000 to some 3,000.

“In recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and coordination with the government of Iraq and our coalition partners, the United States has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September,” CENTCOM commander Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie said during a coalition change-of-command ceremony in Baghdad.

“This decision is due to our confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces’ increased ability to operate independently,” McKenzie said, according to a readout of his statement .

The drawdown announcement comes three weeks after Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited Washington to discuss the United States’ security and economic relations with Iraq now that the Islamic State (IS) has been reduced to scattered sleeper cells.

McKenzie hinted in July at his openness to a drawdown in Iraq, saying he believed the US-led coalition could continue to contain IS with fewer forces in the country. The CENTCOM commander has expressed confidence that the remnants of IS can no longer seize and hold territory.

"This is a result of a lot of hard work by both countries, and the coalition, over many years," former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Middle East Affairs Michael Mulroy told Al-Monitor by phone.

"It is critical that we maintain enough of our forces in Iraq to ensure that ISIS can never again regain its territory in Iraq or Syria. There were too many sacrifices by both countries to allow that to happen," said Mulroy, now a security analyst for ABC News.

"We also need to maintain our strong relationship with the Iraqi military to help counter Iran's influence in Iraq."

Earlier this year, the US-led multinational coalition in Iraq began withdrawing from satellite bases to consolidate its main effort at a headquarters in Baghdad and at other larger bases.