Trump Visit Angers Iraqi Lawmakers, Spurs Calls for U.S. Pullout
(Bloomberg) -- Iraqi lawmakers took offense at President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to U.S. troops stationed there, with some of the most powerful groups in the Baghdad parliament urging a review of America’s military presence in the country.
Trump made his first visit to troops in a combat zone as commander-in-chief on Wednesday, meeting with U.S. soldiers at the Ain Al-Asad base west of Baghdad. The president told them he had no plans for a withdrawal from Iraq, after his recent decision to pull out of Syria. Trump didn’t meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, though the two leaders spoke by phone.
The president, who’s been criticized in Washington for ceding ground to both Islamic State and Iran by withdrawing troops from Syria, said that U.S. forces would be able to use Iraq as a base for regional operations against adversaries. But in Iraq, where America and Iran have long competed for political influence, there was little apparent support for the idea.
Lawmakers from the bloc headed by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which won the most seats in May’s election, slammed the presidential visit as an example of “America’s arrogance and disregard in dealing with Iraq,” and its repeated violation of Iraqi sovereignty. The group called on parliament to pass a law demanding U.S. forces leave Iraq. Al-Sadr is a former militia commander who directed attacks on American forces after the 2003 invasion, and he’s gained popularity in recent years by targeting Iraq’s political establishment over issues such as corruption.
The second-biggest group in parliament, the Al-Binaa bloc, said Trump’s trip raises “many question marks over the nature of the American military presence in Iraq.” Haider al-Abadi, the former premier who worked closely with the U.S., said Trump’s visit was a breach of diplomatic norms and would harm ties between the countries.
The White House said a meeting between Trump and Abdul-Mahdi couldn’t be arranged at short notice. The Iraqi premier said in a statement that there were “differences of opinion” over organizing a summit, and the leaders spoke by phone instead. He said U.S. officials had expressed Trump’s intention to congratulate the government on the defeat of Islamic State, as well as visiting troops.
Most American forces were withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, after years of political squabbling following the U.S. invasion in 2003. But thousands returned to help the Baghdad government fight Islamic State, after the jihadist group seized swaths of the country in 2013 and 2014. There were 5,200 U.S. troops in the country as of December 2017, the last time the Pentagon provided an update.
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