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Will Iraq ask US troops to leave the country?

US President Donald Trump's recent statement about the role of US troops in Iraq — to keep an eye on Iran — has caused a strong backlash among Iraqi politicians who see this statement as an interference in Iraqi matters.
A U.S. soldier from the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division stands guard at a military base north of Mosul, Iraq, February 14, 2017. Picture taken February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily - RC1D165D9880

In a Feb. 5 meeting between head of the Fatah Alliance Hadi al-Amiri and leaders from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance agreement was reached on cooperation to pass a resolution in the parliament to eject US troops from the country.

This came after US President Donald Trump's statement on the important role of US troops in Iraq to keep an eye on Iran. In an interview with CBS, Trump said it is important for Washington to keep its military presence at al-Asad air base in Iraq's Anbar province, so the United States can keep a close eye on Iran — because “Iran is a real problem.”

This has created a strong backlash against US troops in Iraq among Iraqi politicians, who consider this an intention of interference in Iraqi politics and the use of Iraqi territory against a neighboring country, which is prohibited per the Iraqi Constitution.

Iraqi President Barham Salih slammed Trump's statement, requesting an explanation of the number of US troops in Iraq and their tasks. "Trump did not ask Iraq's permission to 'watch Iran,'" Salih said.

"Don't overburden Iraq with your own issues," Saiih told a forum in Baghdad Feb. 4. "The United States is a major power … but do not pursue your own policy priorities. We live here," he added.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also rejected using Iraqi territory by any country against another. “Iraq should not be a part of any conflicts between other countries,” he said during his weekly press conference Feb. 5. “We do not agree with the recent US statements. We reject them as these statements are not useful and should be withdrawn.”

Abdul Mahdi had previously announced that Iraq is not a part of US sanctions against Iran.

This clearly indicates that Iraq does not want to be pulled into a regional or international conflict, whether between the United States and Iran or Saudi Arabia and Iran. The recent trip of the head of the Popular Mobilization Units, Falih al-Fayadh, who is supported by Iran for the post of Ministry of Interior, to Saudi Arabia is another indication of this nonaligned policy.

This policy is even supported by secular forces that are known to have a good relationship with the United States and take distance from Iran.

Ayad Allawi, head of the Iraqi National Alliance and interim prime minister of Iraq in 2004-2005, called on the Iraqi government and parliament Feb. 5 to “regulate the presence of US troops in Iraq in a clear agreement that gives full sovereignty to Iraq, not any other country.” He added that rejecting Iraqi conditions on the presence of US troops would change these forces to interventional forces that should then leave the country immediately.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tweeted in this regard, “Iraq should not be used as a springboard to attack its neighbors. We are not proxies in conflicts outside the interests of our nation." He continued, "Iraqi sovereignty must be respected. … Its interests should not be compromised.”

Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and the Hikma bloc headed by Ammar al-Hakim, among other Iraqi political forces, slammed Trump's statements, rejecting any role for US troops against Iraq’s neighbors.

The deputy parliament speaker, Hassan al-Kaabi, considered the statements by the US president a violation of the Iraqi Constitution, assuring that US troops would be ejected following a parliament resolution.

A member of the Fatah Alliance in parliament, Mohamed Karim, said that all political parties in the parliament agree on ejecting foreign forces including US troops. Even if a minority refuses, the Fatah Alliance, Sairoon Alliance and Nasr coalition (Victory Alliance) have enough votes to pass this resolution.

In addition to Trump's recent statements, his Christmas visit to US troops stationed at al-Asad air base without visiting Baghdad or meeting Iraqi officials have caused strong discontent among Iraqi political forces.

Trump also said in the CBS interview that some US troops that move out of Syria will go to Iraq, and that they will respond to developments in Syria from their bases in Iraq. This is also against the legal role of US troops in Iraq, as they are only part of a coalition against the Islamic State (IS) and are not allowed to take part in any other conflicts, especially outside Iraq from Iraqi territory.

US military officers have also recently appeared in public in Baghdad, Fallujah in Anbar province and other Iraqi cities, which has spread rumors among Iraqis, linking these activities to a US plan to overthrow the government in Iraq and put in place a military government supported by the United States.

Trump's remarks on monitoring Iran from Iraqi territory have also caused confusion at the Pentagon, with officials unsure whether the US mission in Iraq has changed or not. During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Feb. 5, Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of US Central Command, said that the US mission in Iraq had not been given "additional tasks."

CNN quoted a senior State Department official as saying, "Our troops are there in a relationship with the government of [Iraq] — by invitation of the government of Iraq, articulated by the strategic framework agreement. They're there for the enduring defeat of IS, that hasn't changed."

As expected, pro-Iranian military factions were among the first forces that showed strong reactions against Trump's statements. Head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq Qais al-Khazali said Feb. 4 that the statements by the US president reveal the truth of the American project in Iraq, noting that the Iraqi military apparatus can easily eject US troops overnight.

Shiite militias also threatened to target US troops in Iraq. On Feb. 2, Iraqi security forces captured a number of rockets in Anbar that were going to be launched at al-Asad air base.

Trump's apparent reassignment of the mission of US troops in Iraq has created resistance among Iraqis that their country will be used as a battleground for a proxy war between conflicting forces in the region. As a result, Iraqi politicians, including those who support the United States, will unite and ask US troops to leave the country.

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