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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 February 2019

Iraqi president: Donald Trump did not request permission to watch Iran

Barham Salih says US troops are in Iraq to only combat terrorism

Iraqi President Barham Salih during a joint press briefing with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, November, 17, 2018. AP
Iraqi President Barham Salih during a joint press briefing with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, November, 17, 2018. AP

US President Donald Trump did not ask for Iraq’s permission to allow troops stationed there to “watch Iran”, President Barham Salih said on Monday.

In an unexpected move, Mr Trump said it was vital for US forces to stay in Iraq to keep an eye on Tehran “because Iran is a real problem”, according to a CBS interview broadcast on Sunday.

His announcement will give momentum to Iraqi lawmakers who have been pushing for the withdrawal of foreign troops since Mr Trump’s unannounced visit to Baghdad in December.

“I find it strange that the US president would talk of keeping a US base in Iraq to ‘watch’ Iran. Don’t burden Iraq with issues that are not a priority for my country,” Mr Salih said during a forum in Baghdad.

“The US is a major power …. but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here."

The Iraqi official said US military presence is based on a legal agreement to combat terrorism and anything else needs review.

“Baghdad will request for clarification from the US regarding its mission and number of troops on Iraqi grounds,” Mr Salih said.

Iraq has found itself in a difficult position, caught between its two biggest allies, the United States and Iran, especially as tensions between the two have increased.

Mr Salih stressed that “it’s a fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran and other neighbouring states”.

Fifteen years after the US invasion of Iraq and the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein, the presence of American troops draws strong opinions.

“We are expecting the United States to respect our mutual interests and avoid pushing Iraq into a regional conflict,” Sarkwat Shamsi, an Iraqi member of parliament, said.

The US Army’s mission in Iraq is to help Iraqi security forces fight terrorism but “not to watch others”, Mr Shamsi said.

Mr Trump's surprise visit to troops at Al Asad airbase on December 26, and leaving without meeting any Iraqi officials, triggered calls from politicians for US forces to leave.

The US president was accused of being arrogant and violating Iraqi sovereignty when he landed in Baghdad unannounced.

Politicians promised to schedule several sessions to debate the expulsion of US troops.

Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Hassan Al Kaabi rejected Mr Trump's statement and asserted that parliament will work on a draft law to terminate the security agreement between Iraq and US.

"Once again, Mr Trump exceeded the legal and constitutional rights of the Iraqi state after his previous visit to Al Asad base," Mr Al Kaabi said.

He called on lawmakers to act "urgently" to end the US presence in Iraq.

Former Vice-President Ayad Allawi said that Iraq rejects the idea that it can become a fighting ground for external powers.

“The remainder of foreign forces must fall under a clear agreement with governmental and parliamentarian approval,” Mr Allawi said on Twitter.

Updated: February 4, 2019 03:15 PM

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