Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Iraqi politicians criticise Donald Trump’s visit to country

MPs call trip to see US troops a ‘blatant breach of Iraq’s sovereignty’

President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to American troops in Iraq on Wednesday was criticised by political and militia leaders as a breach of the country’s sovereignty.

Iraqi MPs also revealed that a meeting between the US president and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had to be cancelled because of a disagreement over the venue.

Sabah Al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits. The US occupation of Iraq is over”.

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The Bina bloc, Islah’s rival in parliament led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi Al Amiri, also objected to Mr Trump’s trip to Iraq.

“Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” the bloc said.

Mr Abdul Mahdi’s office said he had been informed about the visit. He and the US president talked by phone because of a “disagreement over how to conduct the meeting”.

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The American leader’s visit came amid escalating tension between Washington and Tehran, as the US seeks to counter Iran’s sway in the Middle East.

Mr Trump defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria during the unannounced visit to Iraq, saying that many people were going to start seeing things the same way he did.

The surprise visit was his first trip to US troops in a war zone since being elected two years ago.

Mr Trump landed at 7.16pm local time at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq, accompanied by his wife Melania. The president spoke to troops and met military leaders.

Although the visit took place in considerable secrecy, ­speculation had been mounting that Mr Trump might make such a trip after his decision to slash troop levels in Afghanistan and pull US forces out entirely from Syria.

Mr Trump abruptly made the decision on Syria last week, against the advice of top aides and commanders, including Defence Secretary James Mattis, who announced his resignation the next day.

The president said he had told his advisers, “Let’s get out of Syria,” but was then persuaded to stay before deciding to bring the 2,000 troops home.

“I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It’s time for us to start using our head,” the president said at the airbase where he and Mrs Trump spent three hours with US soldiers.

Mr Trump also said the US had no plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq, adding: “We could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in ­Syria.”

Amid anger at Mr Trump’s presence in the country, Falih Khazali, a former militia ­leader turned politician allied with Bina, accused the US of wanting to increase its presence in Iraq.

“The American leadership was defeated in Iraq and wants to return again under any pretext, and this is what we will never allow,” Mr Khazali said.

Bina said Mr Trump’s visit “places many question marks on the nature of the US military presence and its real objectives, and what these objectives could pose to the security of Iraq”.

While there has been no full-scale violence in Iraq since ISIS suffered a series of defeats last year, about 5,200 US troops train and advise Iraqi forces still waging a campaign against the militant group.

Qais Al Khazali, the leader of the powerful Iran-backed Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia took to Twitter to condemn the visit: “Iraqis will respond with a parliamentary decision to oust your military forces. And if they do not leave, we have the experience and the ability to remove them by other means that your forces are familiar with.”

Some Iraqis, however, were less concerned with the US president’s visit.

“We won’t get anything from America,” said Baghdad resident Mohammad Abdullah. “They’ve been in Iraq 16 years and they haven’t given anything to the country except destruction and devastation.”

Updated: December 27, 2018 09:51 PM

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