Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected a request from Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism” for American troop withdrawal, saying the two sides should “recommit” to the bilateral military agreement.
On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution that would end the American military presence in the country. The resolution came about as a result of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qasem Suleimani.
The anti-government demonstrators in the streets are demanding the government remove both American and Iranian troops from the country.
“The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities, and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the statement added.
Abdul-Mahdi signaled he was standing by the push for the American forces to go despite recent signs of de-escalation between Tehran and Washington after Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s death with a barrage of missiles that hit two Iraqi bases where U.S. troops are based but caused no casualties.
Iraqis have felt furious and helpless at being caught in the middle of fighting between Baghdad’s two closest allies. Abdul-Mahdi has said he rejects all violations of Iraqi sovereignty, including both the Iranian and U.S. strikes.
Pompeo is stalling for time, hoping the political firestorm will die down. Rightly, he’s refusing negotiations at the point of a bayonet. And while American troops aren’t vital to Iraq’s security, the fight against ISIS makes their presence valuable to the mission.
On Friday, the U.S. State Department flatly dismissed the request. It said the presence of U.S. troops was crucial for the fight against the Islamic State group and it would not discuss removing them.
“Any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East,” said spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.
“We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous, and stable Iraq,” she added.
There are 5200 American military forces in Iraq, most of them dedicated to the fight against ISIS. That battle is important given the ability of ISIS to reconstitute itself into a formidable terrorist group.
Besides, it’s also in Iraq’s interests to harbor the American forces. We are still helping to train the Iraqi army and improve its terrorist fighting ability. And the Sunni and Kurdish leadership still look to the U.S. to keep the Shia majority from squashing them.
Pompeo is in no hurry to negotiate a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.