US leaders reject Iraqi demands for withdrawal of all military forces

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that US military forces were not preparing to withdraw completely from Iraq, but may downsize in the coming months as officials reassess ongoing missions there.

The comments came in response to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s request that the United States send delegates to prepare for the full withdrawal of US military forces, following an Iraqi parliament vote last week to oust foreign troops.

“The Prime Minister said that US forces had entered Iraq and drones were flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities and that this was a violation of bilateral agreements,” Prime Minister said. minister in a statement obtained by the Associated Press.

But Pompeo, during a White House briefing on Friday morning, characterized the diplomatic request differently, saying he sees it as part of ongoing discussions about the role of US troops in ongoing missions to counter the fighters. of the Islamic State.

“We are happy to continue the conversation with the Iraqis on the right structure for our mission,” he said. “We went there to carry out a training mission to help the Iraqi security forces succeed and to continue the campaign against ISIS… We will continue this mission.

But Pompeo added that with recent successes against ISIS, the United States may be able to continue this work “with fewer resources.” He added that the increase in NATO troops in the region could also lead to a decrease in US personnel there.

About 5,000 US troops are currently stationed in Iraq to assist and train Iraqi security counterparts to combat the Islamic State group.

State Department officials said any delegation sent to Iraq in the coming days “would be devoted to discussing how best to re-engage our strategic partnership – not discussing troop withdrawal.” Defense Ministry officials have also publicly stated that they are not preparing for a large-scale troop withdrawal from the country.

Discussions over levels of US forces in Iraq have intensified in recent days after President Donald Trump’s decision to order an airstrike to kill Iranian force commander Quds Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad International Airport on the 3rd January.

Iraqi officials were not informed in advance of the attack, and many political leaders denounced the action as a violation of Iraqi territory. In a non-binding vote, MPs ordered the Iraqi government to formally request a withdrawal.

The White House issued a statement on Friday describing new economic sanctions against Iran and defending the airstrike as a necessary step to prevent future violence against America.

“The Iranian regime has threatened the military, diplomats and civilians of the United States, as well as the citizens and interests of our allies and partners, through military force and proxy groups,” the statement said. “The United States will continue to fight the destructive and destabilizing behavior of the Iranian regime. “

Pompeo said Trump was responding to “looming” threats from Iran and Soleimani “against US facilities, including US embassies and military bases” across the region.

“It was going to happen, and American lives were in danger,” he said. “We would have been guilty of negligence… if we had not recommended that the President take this step. He made the right choice. And America is safer because of it.

Protests by various factions in the Iraqi parliament were scheduled throughout Friday to criticize the United States for its continued military presence there.

But the demand for withdrawal is not universal. Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers opposed the parliament’s resolution. The Sunnis see the American presence as a bulwark against the domination of the Shiite majority and Iran, while the Kurdish security forces have benefited from American training and assistance.

Journalist Shawn Snow and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.

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