Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Donald Trump says US troops will stay in Iraq to watch Iran

US president rejects possible strikes on Iran from Al Asad military base in Iraq

President Donald Trump speaks to US troops at Al Asad airbase in Iraq on December 26, 2018. Reuters
President Donald Trump speaks to US troops at Al Asad airbase in Iraq on December 26, 2018. Reuters

President Donald Trump said it is vital for US troops to stay in Iraq to monitor Iran, in contrast to Syria and Afghanistan where he is seeking to withdraw American forces.

In an interview with CBS on Sunday, Mr Trump said Washington had spent trillions of dollars on a military base in Iraq and that he did not trust his intelligence chiefs who say Iran is sticking by the nuclear deal that the US exited.

“We might as well keep it. 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,” Mr Trump said, referring the Al Asad air base in Anbar province, which he visited in late December.

He denied claims that the US will strike Iran from Iraq.

“All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up,” he said.

In a warning to Iran, Mr Trump said: "If somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do."

The US president asserted that US intelligence services made a mistake about former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction.

“Guess what? Those intel people didn’t know what they were doing, and they got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in,” he said.

“And we’ve spent seven trillion dollars in the Middle East and we have lost lives.”

Iraqi lawmakers have been pushing for the withdrawal of US troops from the country for the last month since Mr Trump's unannounced trip drew criticism for his failure to meet Iraqi leaders.

During his visit to Iraq Mr Trump said that he has “no plans at all” to remove the more 5,000 US troops currently in Iraq.

Fifteen years after the US invasion of Iraq and the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein, the continued presence of American troops draws strong opinions. Mr Trump's surprise visit to troops at Al Asad airbase on December 26, leaving without meeting any Iraqi officials, triggered calls from politicians for US forces to leave the country.

Mr Trump's trip was followed by a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ease the tensions.

Mr Trump insisted that troops will pull out of Syria despite concern among allies in the region, but he refused to provide a timetable for the withdrawal, saying only that they would leave Syria “in a matter of time" and would first go to the base in Iraq before returning home.

Mr Trump said he was determined to bring troops home from Afghanistan as well, and expressed optimism about ongoing peace talks with the Afghan Taliban to end the US military presence there.

"We have been in Afghanistan for 19 years. And by the way, I've been hitting very hard in Afghanistan and now we're negotiating with the Taliban. We'll see what happens, who knows," he said.

Mr Trump suggested that he had fired former defence secretary Jim Mattis over disagreements on strategy in Afghanistan.

"He resigned because I asked him to resign," Mr Trump said. "I gave him big budgets and he didn't do well in Afghanistan. I was not happy with the job he was doing in Afghanistan."

Mr Mattis's resignation in December was widely seen as a response to Mr Trump's sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, which appeared to catch the Pentagon by surprise.

Updated: February 3, 2019 08:49 PM

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