Iraq’s acting prime minister has asked the U.S. to prepare and submit its plan to remove its troops from the country, signaling support for a recent Iraqi parliament vote to force U.S. troops out after the airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Thursday night to inform him of Iraq’s demands for the U.S. troop withdrawal, according to the Associated Press. The prime minister also spoke to criticize the U.S. strike as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.
According to a press statement from Mahdi’s office, he asked Pompeo to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.”
“The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities, and this was a violation of the bilateral agreement,” the statement continued.
Though tensions between Iran and the U.S. have somewhat subsided in the days since Iran launched a series retaliatory missile strikes against U.S. positions in Iraq, Mahdi’s message to Pompeo appears to fulfill the Iraqi parliament’s vote to force the U.S. out.
Mahdi’s request does not force an immediate withdrawal as Iraq now appears to be giving the U.S. some room to plan its off-ramp from the country.
In an apparent response to Mahdi’s request, the State Department released its own press statement Friday.
“America is a force for good in the Middle East. Our military presence in Iraq is to continue the fight against ISIS and as the Secretary has said, we are committed to protecting Americans, Iraqis, and our coalition partners,” the statement reads. “We have been unambiguous regarding how crucial our D-ISIS mission is in Iraq. At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership—not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East.”
The statement went on to describe efforts through NATO to also bolster its role in Iraq.
“There does, however, need to be a conversation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but about our financial, economic, and diplomatic partnership. We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous, and stable Iraq,” the statement concluded.
There are around 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq currently training Iraqi military members to counter ISIS. An immediate pullout may throw off efforts to prevent a resurgence by the terror group.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, have said there were no plans for the U.S. to withdraw.
A letter, which bore the name of Task Force Iraq chief and U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III, suggested the U.S. was indeed planning to leave Iraq in accordance with parliament’s vote. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley both disavowed the letter as inaccurate and “inconsistent with where we are right now.”
BREAKING: The US military sends a letter to the Iraqi military announcing the “onward movement” of US troops “in due deference to the sovereignty of Iraq & as requested by the Iraqi Parliament & the Iraqi PM”. It’s a withdrawal. pic.twitter.com/tQHSsHTtez
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) January 6, 2020
President Donald Trump has also indicated no plans to leave Iraq unless the country reimburses the cost of a military base in the country. Trump said, “We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”