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Trump says US troops won’t leave Iraq ‘unless they pay us back’ for airbase

President Donald Trump waits outside the West Wing of the White House for the arrival of Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar on July 9, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
January 06, 2020

President Donald Trump on Sunday threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq so damaging that they’ll “make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame” if Iraq doesn’t compensate the United States for an airbase in the country.

“We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on his way to Washington from Mar-a-Lago, as Washington Examiner reported.

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” he added.

Trump’s comments come after the Iraqi parliament voted on Sunday to expel U.S. troops from the country in response to the killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

While Trump did not specify the airbase, it is speculated that he was referring to the al-Asad Airbase in the Anbar province, since he previously said it cost the United States a “fortune” to build.

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“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it on a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” he said. “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”

Trump added that it was not his decision to go into Iraq and didn’t support the decision, as removing troops from Iraq was a central point of his 2016 campaign.

“I told you, Iraq was the worst decision, going into the Middle East was the worst decision ever made in the history of our country, and I’ve said that publicly, so I guess I can say that right now: Going into the Middle East was the worst decision ever made in the history of our country,” he added. “But, we are there, and they went into Iraq.”

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, said the decision to remove the 5,000 U.S. troops was required “for the sake of our national sovereignty,” and described the airstrike that killed Soleimani as a “political assassination.”

Trump ordered the airstrike on Thursday which killed Soleimani, along with deputy commander of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Iraqi militia, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and PMF official Mohammed Reda.

Iran replaced Soleimani a few hours after his death with Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani, who served as Soleimani’s deputy commander since 1997.

Soleimani, whose formal title was head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s “elite” Quds Force, was actively planning an attack on the United States, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said.  “General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the statement added. “The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for “severe revenge.

“Martyr Soleimani is an Intl figure of Resistance & all such people will seek revenge,” Khamenei said.

“His efforts & path won’t be stopped by his martyrdom, by God’s Power, rather a  awaits the criminals who have stained their hands with his & the other martyrs’ blood last night.”

Additionally, Iran officially ended its agreed uranium enrichment limits as part of the 2015 nuclear deal called the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

“Iran will continue its nuclear enrichment with no limitations and based on its technical needs,” the Iranian statement declared.