Iraqi PM asks Trump to retract comments on troops’ stay

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Tuesday affirmed that his country would not become a battlefield for a US war against Iran and asked US President Donald Trump to retract recent comments about why US troops will remain in Iraq.
author_image Kosar Nawzad

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Tuesday affirmed that his country would not become a battlefield for a US war against Iran and asked US President Donald Trump to retract recent comments about why US troops will remain in Iraq.

In a recent interview with CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump said that the US would withdraw its forces from Syria and transfer at least some of them to Iraq, where they would remain to keep a watchful eye on Iran, a country that is “a real problem.

But Iraq “disagrees” with Trump’s comments, Abdul-Mahdi said, adding “There are no US military bases in Iraq… There is no SOFA agreement between Iraq and the United States.”

There are “American trainers and military personnel within the framework of [the anti-ISIS] international coalition,” the main mission of which is to “train Iraqi forces and fight Da’esh [Islamic State],” he continued.

In 2008, then US President George W. Bush signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Baghdad. The agreement established a date for withdrawing American troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

Subsequently, on Oct. 21, 2011, Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama, announced that US troops would, indeed, leave Iraq by year’s end.

As a senator, Obama had opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and in 2008, he campaigned for president on that issue, and won. As the date for the departure of US forces approached, however, violence in Iraq remained a concern.

Some Americans thought the US should remain longer in Iraq. However, efforts to reach a new understanding with Baghdad failed. The Obama administration claimed that was due to Iraq’s unwillingness to provide standard legal assurances for US forces. However, suspicion fell on the White House itself.

As Obama had run for president on opposition to OIF, it was suspected that he did not try very hard to keep US troops in the country. By the end of 2011, all US forces were withdrawn from Iraq.

But just three years later, in 2014, they were obliged to return. The Islamic State had seized one-third of the country, as the Iraqi army collapsed, threatening Baghdad, as well as Erbil.

More than three years of conflict followed, leaving those parts of Iraq occupied by the Islamic State in ruins. In late 2017, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared a final “victory”—just months ahead of Iraq’s May 2018 elections.

Influential political figures, including leaders of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (Shi’ite militias that arose to fight the Islamic State), are now increasingly calling on US troops to leave Iraq. According to Abdul-Mahdi, those forces number around 6,000. Trump’s plan to transfer at least some of the US troops in Syria to Iraq would increase that figure.

“One of the reasons that I want to keep” US forces in Iraq, Trump said, “is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran, because Iran is a real problem.”

However, Abdul-Mahdi affirmed, “We reject this notion,” that US troops should be in Iraq to “fight a neighboring country like Iran.”

“The [Iraqi] Constitution does not allow this,” the Iraqi Prime Minister emphasized.

Iraqi President Barham Salih responded similarly on Monday in words that he directed to USofficials: “Do not pursue your own policy priorities,” as he further stressed that Baghdad has a great interest in having “good relations” with Tehran.

Abdul-Mahdi asked Trump to reverse his position. We “request” that Trump “retract” his comments, he said, affirming, “Our American friends need to clarify their position on this issue.”

US officials have not responded to either Abdul-Mahdi or Salih, at least not publicly.

However, Gen. Joseph Votel, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, was careful to emphasize that US troops were in Iraq with the sole mission of defeating the Islamic State and ensuring that it did not reemerge.

Editing by Laurie Mylroie