Iraqi lawmakers urge Prime Minister to explain presence of US troops

The White House is reportedly seeking options to strike Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad, during a Middle East tour, Iraq, January 9, 2019.  Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS
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Iraqi lawmakers on Monday urged Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to hold a parliamentary session to review the US military presence in the country.

The calls follow a visit by US President Donald Trump that upset lawmakers when he visited troops at the Ain Al Asad Base west of Baghdad just after Christmas but did not meet with Mr Abdul Mahdi or any other officials.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched down in Baghdad last week and met with top officials to ease tensions after lawmakers called for a parliamentary debate on the future of US troops in the country.

Fifteen years after the US invasion of Iraq and the toppling of former dictator Saddam Hussein, the presence of American troops still draws strong opinions.

During his visit Mr Trump said that he has “no plans at all” to remove the more 5,000 US troops currently in Iraq.

Yet, that number is contested by lawmakers in Baghdad who claim that there are around 9,000 soldiers on the ground and that number may increase after the announcement of a US withdrawal from Syria.

The Iraqi constitution allows foreign troops to training and provide military assistance to the Iraqi army, said Wajih Abbas, an Iraqi member of parliament.

"The actual number of US forces in Iraq is 9,000, we do not have accurate information on their whereabouts or what their role is," Mr Abbas said, adding that it is vital for parliament to intervene to reduce their presence on Iraqi land.

Furthermore, various members of parliament are calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq, Jaber Al Jaberi, an Iraqi lawmaker, told The National.

“The decision, however, is down to the general command of the armed forces and if they see the need for the presence of US forces in Iraq,” Mr Al Jaberi said.

Yet, officials are not only demanding the withdrawal of troops but that ordinary citizens are given details on the presence of US troops in the country.

"What the Iraqi people need to know is whether Ain Al Asad Air Base is an American or Iraqi military base? If its presence in Iraq is recognised formally and whether the forces there will launch attacks outside Iraq?" an official, who requested to remain anonymous, from the Al Wataniya coalition led by former Vice President Ayyad Allawi told The National.

“These are the questions that we demand that the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Iraqi government explain our Iraqi citizens,” he said, adding that this is not aimed at questioning the US position in Iraq.

“We believe in the importance of having allies in the international community, especially in fighting against extremism, especially with the countries that have supported us in our fight against ISIS,” the official said.


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Sarkwat Shams, an Iraqi MP, told The National that the current attempt to force US military out of Iraq is politically motivated.

“I will support the idea of hosting the PM to give us an update on his 100 days and his strategy,” said Mr Shams, adding that it will require a military assessment.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, led by John Bolton, asked for military options to strike Iran in response to a militant mortar attack on the diplomatic section of Baghdad, which hosts the US embassy, last September.

The Pentagon had considered options in response to the request, but the move triggered concerns among the Pentagon and State Department officials.

The shells landed in an open lot and no one was hurt. Two days later, unidentified militants fired three rockets that hit close to the US consulate in the southern city of Basra but caused no serious damage.

The State Department has not yet commented on the report.