While he would like to bring the US troops home at some point, President Donald Trump ruled out leaving Iraq at this time, claiming most Iraqis support ongoing US presence and that pulling out would lead to an Iranian takeover.
“It’s something ultimately that I want to see, we can’t be there forever,” Trump said Tuesday, asked if he would pull out troops from Iraq. “Eventually, we want to be able to let Iraq run its own affairs… but this isn’t the right point,” he quickly added.
If we leave, that means Iran would have a much bigger foothold.
The president’s words echoed the rhetoric coming from the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters earlier in the day that there were no plans to pull out of Iraq, regardless of the unsigned draft letter sent to the government in Baghdad on Monday suggesting otherwise.
Trump did contradict Esper’s stated justification for staying in Iraq – the need to maintain a presence against the resurgence of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists – by saying that the US “got rid of the Caliphate, a hundred percent of the Caliphate is gone.”
He seemed convinced, however, that a majority of Iraqis want the US troops to stay, saying that there was “tremendous support” from the people who do not wish to see Iran take over.
“Iraqi people understand we’re there to help them stand up their sovereignty,” chimed in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was at the Oval Office with Trump and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Both Pompeo and Esper have been working that talking point tirelessly for the past two days, with the Pentagon chief telling reporters that Sunday’s resolution adopted by the Iraqi parliament that asked the US to leave was not the work of just some Shia lawmakers, while Sunni and Kurdish MPs boycotted the vote.
The resolution followed last week’s US drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani outside the Baghdad international airport. On Tuesday, Trump once again called Soleimani a “monster” and a dangerous terrorist, argued that the assassination saved lives of both Americans and Iraqis and noted that Soleimani had been “traveling with the head of Hezbollah” – possibly conflating the Lebanese-based militia with one of the factions of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
PMF deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed in the same strike that targeted Soleimani. His death angered many Iraqis, and PMF even threatened to send US troops back in coffins if they do not leave the country.
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