Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Monday that Donald Trump did not ask permission to station U.S. troops in Iraq to “watch Iran“.
It follows an interview in which the U.S. president said America had “spent a fortune” on building a military base in Iraq and “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”.
Trump was answering questions on his commitment to reduce U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
When asked if he was keeping troops in Iraq because he wanted to launch a strike against Iran, Trump said: “No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. 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, and this is what a lot of people don’t understand, we’re going to keep watching.”
But the Iraqi president said Trump did not ask Iraq’s permission to carry out such monitoring.
Speaking at a forum in Baghdad, Salih said U.S. troops were in Iraq as part of an agreement between the two countries with a specific mission of combating “terrorism” – and that they should stick to that, Sky News reported.
According to al Jazeera, Salih said any action taken outside that framework is “unacceptable”.
According to Sky News, Salih said, “Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues. The U.S. is a major power… but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here.”
Iraq is in a difficult position as tensions between its two biggest allies, the United States and Iran, increase.
Salih added, “It is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran and other neighboring countries.”
Abadi slams Trump remarks about use of Iraqi territory to “watch” Iran
On Sunday, former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi also criticized remarks by Trump, the Iraqi News reported.
“The recent remarks about the use of American military bases in Iraq to target neighboring countries contradicts with the Iraqi constitution and agreements signed with the U.S.,” Iraqi Al-Taghier TV channel quoted Abadi’s media office as saying in a statement on Monday.
Abadi added that the U.S. participation in the anti-Islamic State international coalition is mainly meant to serve the purposes of logistic support, intelligence and military training, not to endanger Iraqi sovereignty.
Abadi further called on the government to affirm Iraq’s unshakable stance that “Iraqi territory cannot be used against any neighboring country or any party.”
Amar Hakim: We consider Trump’s remarks as threat to our security’
Amar Hakim, leader of the Iraqi National Alliance, also reacted to remarks by Trump, saying Baghdad “definitely” will not allow any country to use its soil to settle an account with others.
“We oppose that Iraq be used as a place to watch neighboring countries or provoke these countries or attack these countries,” Hakim wrote on his tweeter post.
According to the constitution, Hakim said, Iraq must not threaten the security and stability of the region and the world.
“We consider such remarks as a threat to our national interests and security of our country and Baghdad will never allow such a thing,” the political figure remarked.
‘Blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty’
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the U.S. has been quietly negotiating with Iraq for weeks to allow Special Forces and support troops now operating in Syria to shift to bases in Iraq and strike ISIL from there.
Citing two U.S. officials, the New York Times said senior US military officers recently visited several Iraqi bases, including in Erbil and the Ayn al-Asad Airbase, to determine if existing U.S. operations there could be expanded with troops moving in from Syria.
But Trump’s comments to CBS could undermine those negotiations by inflaming fears among Iraqis that U.S. military activity in Iraq will be aimed at checking Iran, and not defeating ISIL, the Times said.
Hassan Karim al-Kaabi, Iraq’s deputy speaker of parliament, called Trump’s comments a “blatant and overt violation of sovereignty and national will”, according to Rudaw, a Kurdish-Iraqi media network.
Citing a statement by al-Kaabi, Rudaw said the deputy speaker pledged to pass a law “terminating the security agreement with America, in addition to ending the presence of American military trainers and advisors and foreigners on Iraqi soil”.
Iraqi political and militia leaders had previously denounced Trump’s December visit to Ayn al-Asad Airbase as a “blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”.
Trump did not meet any Iraqi officials during his three-hour stay there. A scheduled meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was scrapped and the two leaders spoke over the phone instead.
Iraqi legislators told Reuters news agency that the two leaders had disagreed over where their planned meeting should take place: Trump had asked to meet at the military base, an offer Abdul Mahdi declined.
According to Rudaw, Abdul-Mahdi said at the time that the American president’s visit had broken conditions set by Baghdad. He also slammed the notion that the U.S. has a base in Iraq, reminding the world that the military bases in Iraq are Iraqi and foreigners are there as guests only.
“There is no U.S. base in Iraq,” he said. “There are only Iraqi bases where some U.S. and non-U.S. soldiers are present.”