Trump’s Iraq comment prompts confusion and condemnation


Trump's Iraq comment prompts confusion and condemnation

In Summary

  • President Donald Trump's suggestion that the US would use a base in Iraq as a means to "watch" Iran evoked the scorn of Iraqi lawmakers on Monday and seemed to cause confusion among Pentagon officials and analysts.
  • "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," Trump told CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, adding that he wouldn't use the US military outpost to strike Iran, but to "watch" it.

President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the US would use a base in Iraq as a means to “watch” Iran evoked the scorn of Iraqi lawmakers on Monday and seemed to cause confusion among Pentagon officials and analysts, while the State Department told CNN that the US mission in Iraq remains unchanged.

“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,” Trump told CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, adding that he wouldn’t use the US military outpost to strike Iran, but to “watch” it.
“All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up,” he said. “And this is what a lot of people don’t understand. We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.”

Trump’s comments were strongly rejected by current and former Iraqi political leaders. Iraqi President Bahram Salih said that the US had not asked permission to have forces on the ground “watch Iran,” noting that “the US presence in Iraq is a part of an agreement between the two countries with a specific task which is to combat terrorism.”

“Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” Salih said during a forum in Baghdad.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi tweeted in English on Monday that “Iraqi sovereignty must be respected.”

“Its interests should not be compromised. Iraq should not be used as a spring board to attack its neighbours. We are not proxies in conflicts outside the interests of our nation,” he wrote. Multiple defense officials tell CNN that the President’s remarks on monitoring Iran from Iraq were unclear to Pentagon officials who were unsure if they indicated the US mission in Iraq is changing. A senior State Department official told reporters on Monday that the US mission in Iraq has not changed.

“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, noting that the agreement is “based in respect for mutual sovereignty.”
However, the official said that “ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS requires focus on Iraqi stability and regional stability.” “We can’t turn a blind eye toward the malign activities of Iran throughout the region. We expect Iran to fully respect the sovereignty of Iran and other regional states” they said.

Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling, a CNN military analyst who commanded troops in Iraq, said he was unclear on what the President was talking about. “I’m not sure you can watch Iran from inside Iraq,” he said on CNN’s “At This Hour.” “The United States military is in Iraq to provide support for their government in their fight against ISIS, not to be looking at other states in the region.”

“And also, there doesn’t seem to be right now the equipment there to give us the ability to conduct strategic-level intelligence gathering,” Hertling added.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Trump’s statement was “probably the worst way to get the Iraqis to actually support us keeping some kind of presence in Iraq.”

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