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Iraq denies extending date for US troop withdrawal

The Iraqi army denied rumors on Saturday about postponing the withdrawal of US troops, which is scheduled to take place by the end of the year.

“The date for the departure of (US) combat forces on December 31 is fixed and there is no change,” Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman of the Joint Operations Command, told the Iraqi News Agency.

The denial came after the Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada, a pro-Iran armed faction, said it was seeking volunteers to fight the American forces after the end of this year, sparking speculations that American troops were extending their stay.

Several Iraqi political forces and especially pro-Iran factions have called for the withdrawal of US troops. In July, the US and Iraqi leaders agreed the bulk of American troops would leave before the end of the year.

Around 2,500 US troops are fighting in Iraq as part of the coalition to fight the Islamic State. An unknown number of them will remain past the end of the year to advise and train the Iraqi army, and the US will continue to cooperate with Iraq on training, armament, intelligence, and counterterrorism, al-Khafaji added.

The US will also continue to carry out airstrikes in Iraq as part of the international coalition to defeat the Islamic State.

The IS captured nearly one-third of Iraqi territory between 2012 and 2014, prompting Iraq to ask for a foreign intervention to help stabilize the country.

The US, which kept troops in Iraq for eight years after its 2003 invasion of the country to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, intervened at the head of an international coalition.

News of the American withdrawal, which comes in the wake of its catastrophic pullout from Afghanistan, has fuelled anxieties about the resurgence of IS or a further rise in the influence of pro-Iran militias.

Over the past months, Washington has accused pro-Iran armed factions of being behind several missile attacks targeting US military bases in Iraq.

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