President Donald Trump said during an interview on Sunday that he would like to keep U.S. forces in Iraq and use a base there to “watch” Iran, causing confusion among Pentagon officials and provoking the scorn of Iraqi lawmakers.
“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,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation”, adding that he wouldn’t use the U.S. military outpost to strike Iran, but only to “watch” it.
Trump added that the “unbelievable and expensive military base” in Iraq was at a perfect location for observing “different parts of the troubled Middle East.” He stressed that if there is any trouble and nuclear weapons begin to be developed the U.S. would know that first.
However, his remarks didn’t sit well with current and former Iraqi political leaders, who pointed out that the United States had not asked for permission to have troops on the ground “watch Iran.” Iraqi President Bahram Salih stressed that “the U.S. presence in Iraq is a part of an agreement between the two countries with a specific task which is to combat terrorism,” and asked the U.S. not to “overburden Iraq” with its issues.
His comments were echoed by Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who said on Twitter that “Iraqi sovereignty must be respected. Its interests should not be compromised. Iraq should not be used as a springboard to attack its neighbors,” and noted that the country was not to serve as a proxy in conflicts outside of its interests.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s comments confused some Pentagon officials who were not sure whether they signaled a change in the U.S. mission in the Middle Eastern country. A senior State Department official cleared the confusion Monday, saying that the U.S. mission in Iraq remains the same.
“Our troops are there in a relationship with the government of (Iraq) — by invitation of the government of Iraq, articulated by the strategic framework agreement. They’re there for the enduring defeat of ISIS, that hasn’t changed,” the official said.
However, he noted that doing so required both Iraqi and regional stability and Iran’s malign activities which prevent that from happening cannot be ignored.