On Monday, Iraq’s President Barham Salih rejected US President Donald Trump’s plans to keep U.S. military forces in Iraq to keep a “watch” on Iran, saying that the United States should not force its own “policy priorities” on Iraq.
Salih expressed his surprise at the US President’s declaration as he made the comment without seeking permission from Iraq to use Al-Asad air base (where US forces are positioned) to monitor Iran’s activities. Speaking at a public forum in Baghdad, Salih said, “We find these comments strange…He didn’t ask Iraq about this.”
He clarified that US troops in Iraq were as a part of an agreement between the two nations, with a specific mission to fight terrorism. He said, “We will not allow this. Iraq does not want to be a party or axis to any conflict between multiple countries.”
He also said that the Iraqi constitution doesn’t allow the use of Iraq as a base to threaten the interests or security of neighboring countries, as it might heighten tensions in an otherwise war-prone zone.
Warning the US President, he added, “Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues.”
Trump said in an interview to “Face the Nation” aired on CBS on Sunday, ‘I want to be able to watch Iran…We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.”
Trump said (referring to the Iraqi air base) that it is “perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East.”
Trump’s surprise visit to an air base in western Iraq in December, made Iraqi lawmakers clamour for the withdrawal of US forces from their nation. Trump’s recent comment acted as fuel to fire as it further angered Iraqi politicians and Iranian-backed factions in the country. Some Iraqi leaders have pledged to draft a bill for the pull out of US troops, while others are asking for revision of the agreement which allows approximately 5,200 American stationed in Iraq.
Qais al-Khazali, head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, made a more provocative statement stating that U.S. troops may eventually be driven out by force if they do not do so peacefully (by the will of people).
Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also wrote on Twitter about the need to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. He wrote, “Iraq should not be used as a springboard to attack its neighbors. We are not proxies in conflicts outside the interests of our nation.”