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Rudaw

Middle East

Trump: US forces staying in Iraq to watch Iran

By Rudaw 3/2/2019
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose for a photo with US military personnel at al-Asad air base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose for a photo with US military personnel at al-Asad air base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – United States President Donald Trump says he wants American forces to stay in Iraq in order to keep an eye on Iran. 

The US has some 5,200 troops in Iraq and they will stay there “because I want to be able to watch Iran,” Trump told CBS programme Face the Nation that aired on Sunday.

“All I want to do is be able to watch,” he said, pointing out that the US has an “unbelievable and expensive military base” in the country that is in the best location for keeping watch on events in the Middle East. 

“We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do,” he asserted. 

Iraq’s deputy parliament speaker quickly responded to Trump’s comments, saying the American president had committed a “blatant and overt violation of sovereignty and national will” by declaring the US would use Iraqi soil to spy on neighbours. 

Iraq’s constitution stipulates that its territory will not be used to commit transgressions against any other nation, deputy parliament speaker Hassan Karim al-Kaabi pointed out, adding that the parliament will work on legislation to kick US troops out. 

In the next parliamentary session, lawmakers will pass a law terminating “the security agreement with America, in addition to ending the presence of American military trainers and advisors and foreigners on Iraqi soil,” Kaabi declared in a statement published by the parliament. 

The legislature wrapped up its last session in late January. It is expected to reconvene in March, after a break.

Trump’s administration has labelled Iran the greatest state sponsor of terror and the primary destabilizing influence in the Middle East. He pulled out of the nuclear deal last May, undoing years of diplomacy by his predecessor, and has reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic. 

One concern of Washington is that Iran is looking to build a crescent of influence spanning Iraq and Syria, reaching the Mediterranean. 

In Iraq, Iran is backing mainly Shiite militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi who fought in the war against ISIS and have gained ground politically, entering the parliament where they hope to build pressure to force the Americans to leave the country. 

Trump’s intelligence chief has described the Hashd as the “primary threat” to the US in Iraq. 

The president, however, has a rocky relationship with intelligence experts who have said Iran is abiding with the nuclear deal. He told CBS that he doesn’t have to agree with the assessments of the intelligence community, pointing to mistaken reports of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. 

“So when my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is – if you don't mind, I'm going to just go by my own counsel,” he said. 

US troops who stay in Iraq will also keep an eye on Syria, the president added. 

He declined to put a timeline on withdrawing from Syria, vaguely saying “at a certain point, we want to bring our people back home,” first going to bases in Iraq and then to the US. 

Trump is under pressure from his allies and critics to walk back his decision to pull out of Syria because of the threat it leaves Kurdish allies exposed to and because of the need to ensure ISIS is fully defeated before easing up the military pressure. 

He appeared unconcerned about the risks from sleeper cells, pockets of militants, and a resurgence of ISIS. 

“You’re always going to have pockets of something,” he told CBS, arguing that you don’t keep an army in the country on the basis of a few people. 

And if the threat becomes a full-blown resurgence again, the US can always come back, he argued. “We'll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly.”

He also said the US isn’t really leaving because they will maintain the base in Iraq – “a fantastic edifice.”

Trump visited the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, which was under threat of a rocket attack on Saturday, when he dropped in for a few hours over Christmas. His visit sparked outrage in Iraq when he failed to meet with any Iraqi officials. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said at the time that the American president’s visit had broken conditions set by Baghdad. He also slammed the notion that the US has a base in Iraq, reminding the world that the military bases in Iraq are Iraqi and foreigners are there as guests only. 

“There is no US base in Iraq,” he said. “There are only Iraqi bases where some US and non-US soldiers are present.”

 

Updated at 7:42 pm

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pre-Boomer Marine brat | 3/2/2019
Trump's "All I want to do is be able to watch" is interesting. ... It might help the international community to know something about the hard core of his political base, which is what I believe that choice of words is directed to. ... Among Trump's hardcore base, you'll commonly hear two ideas. The first is that "the only good Muslim is a dead one". The second concerns ISIS, expressed as "Bring our troops home, let'em all kill themselves off over there." ... Trump's base doesn't know that being Kurdish is cultural, not religious. They're well aware of the theological fragmentation of Christianity, but haven't a clue that the same exists in international Islam. They think all Muslims are jihadis, and say that "any Muslim who isn't a Jihadi, isn't a true Muslim." (Yes, that's inane, but that's what they say.) ... Trump himself isn't anti-Muslim, but he has become VERY good at playing to a political base - whatever that base happens to be.
Muslim | 3/2/2019
Iran and its filthy agenda must be stop , we need democracy not islamazation ...
John Bird | 3/2/2019
If the Iraqi parliament passes that proposed law terminating the security agreement with America, then KRG should officially invite US troops into Kurdistan and let them stay there indefinitely, with the condition that they help unify, train and equip Kurdish Peshmerga. This will be a golden opportunity also for the independence agenda to come to the forefront again, this time with full American blessing. We Kurds always benefited from Iraqi stupidity!
No | 4/2/2019
No thank you please leave as Kurds or Iraqi in general we don’t want you there anymore the job is done and we love your troops but as for trump stfu. We Iraqis are doing and working together better than ever. As American Iraqi I would say stay away we ALl want peace and Iran stay the hell out of Iraq same with Turkey
Namid Sayadi | 4/2/2019
We the Kurds lost the trust in Trump and his childish moves, We just buy the time till the USA get a better man in the white house!

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