Iraqi politicians denounce Trump visit as blow to nation's sovereignty

#InsideIraq

Meeting with Iraqi PM cancelled over choice of venue as US president says his troops could operate in Syria from base in Iraq

Trump used the lightning visit to Iraq, his first with US troops in a conflict zone since being elected, to defend his withdrawal from Syria (AFP)
MEE and agencies's picture
Last update: 
Thursday 3 January 2019 7:16 UTC
Topics: 

Political and militia leaders in Iraq have condemned US President Donald Trump's surprise visit to see US troops as a violation of the country's sovereignty.

Iraqi officials said a planned meeting on Wednesday between Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was cancelled due to a disagreement over where it should take place.

Speaking from the Ain al-Asad air base, just west of the capital Baghdad, Trump, who announced the pullout of US soldiers from Syria last week, said Washington had no plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

"In fact we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria," he said.

Sabah al-Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of parliament "to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The US occupation of Iraq is over."

Trump's visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government

- Bina parliamentary block statement

The Bina bloc, Islah's rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Trump's trip to Iraq.

"Trump's visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government," said a statement from Bina.

Abdul Mahdi's office said that US authorities had informed Iraq's leadership of the president's visit ahead of time.

In a statement, it said: "A disagremeent over how to conduct the meeting led to the meeting being replaced by a telephone conversation."

Iraqi politicians told the Reuters news agency that the pair had disagreed over the venue, with Trump asking to meet at the Ain al-Asad air base, an offer which Abdul Mahdi declined.

During the call, Trump invited Abdel Mahdi to visit Washington and he accepted, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the powerful Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, said on Twitter: "Iraqis will respond with a parliamentary decision to oust your [US] military forces. And if they do not leave, we have the experience and the ability to remove them by other means that your forces are familiar with."

'Countries most people haven't even heard'

Trump used the lightning visit to Iraq, his first with US troops in a conflict zone since being elected, to defend the withdrawal from Syria and to declare an end to the US' role as "global policeman".

Speaking at the air base, Trump sought to defend his "America first" policy of pulling back from multinational alliances, including what to many Americans seem like the endless wars of the Middle East.

"It's not fair when the burden is all on us," he said.

"We don't want to be taken advantage of any more by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them. They don't pay for it and they're going to have to."

"We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven't even heard about. Frankly, it's ridiculous," he added.



Hadi al-Amiri, whose Bina parliamentary block condemned Trump's visit to Iraq (AFP)

Trump told reporters he had overruled generals asking to extend the Syria deployment, where about 2,000 US forces joined by other foreign troops, assist local fighters battling the Islamic State group (IS).

"You can't have any more time. You've had enough time," he said he told the top brass.

Trump said in Iraq that some of the US troops from Syria "will come here for a stay, but a lot of them are going to be going back home".

While highlighting the military and financial roles he said Turkey and Saudi Arabia had agreed to play in Syria, Trump also told journalists that "we may go back and help", the AFP news agency reported.

'Question marks'

Trump's visit comes amid a backdrop of escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, as Washington seeks to counter Iran's sway in the Middle East.

The formation of Iraq's government has stalled as well, amid intensifying discord between the Islah and Bina blocs.

Falih Khazali, a former militia leader turned politician allied with Bina, accused the US of wanting to increase its presence in Iraq.

"The American leadership was defeated in Iraq and wants to return again under any pretext, and this is what we will never allow," he said.

Bina said Trump's visit "places many question marks on the nature of the US military presence and its real objectives, and what these objectives could pose to the security of Iraq."

While there have been no large battles in Iraq since IS suffered a series of defeats last year, some 5,200 US troops train and advise Iraqi forces still waging a campaign against the group.

The American leadership was defeated in Iraq and wants to return again under any pretext, and this is what we will never allow

- Falih Khazali, militia leader turned politician

Islah is headed by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has long opposed the American presence in Iraq since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

He led two uprisings against US forces in Iraq and is one of the few Shia leaders to also distance himself from Iran.

Iraq's Shia militias, also known as the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), many of which are supported by Iran, oppose the presence of US troops in the region.

According to Trump, the flight into Iraq was unlike anything he had previously experienced.

"If you would have seen what we had to go through in the darkened plane with all windows closed with no light anywhere - pitch black," he said.

After departing Iraq, Trump stopped over at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where he and First Lady Melania Trump shook hands and greeted some of the hundreds of troops gathered in a hangar.

The president and his entourage then headed back to the US.