Trump: Now isn't the right time to leave Iraq

US President says withdrawal of troops from Iraq at this time would be "the worst thing that could happen to Iraq".

Elad Benari ,

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Reuters

US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that a withdrawal of troops from Iraq was not imminent.

"Eventually we want to be able to let Iraq run its own affairs, and that’s very important. So at some point we want to get out. But this isn’t the right point," Trump told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with the Greek prime minister, according to The Hill.

Trump said an impending US withdrawal would be "the worst thing that could happen to Iraq," reasoning it would give Iran even more influence in the region. He made clear however that he hopes the US would not remain there indefinitely.

"Eventually they have to be able to defend themselves and take care of themselves, and it’s something ultimately that I want to see," he added. "We don’t want to be there forever. We want to be able to get out."

Trump reiterated his previous statement that he would ask the Iraqi government to repay the costs of a joint American and Iraqi air base if the US is forced out of the country.

He also repeated his warning that sanctions were possible if the US was not "treated with respect" by Iraqi officials.

The comments come a day after a letter suggesting the US would withdraw troops from Iraq was published by several news agencies.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper later denied the reports that the US-led coalition to combat the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization has decided to withdraw from Iraq.

"There has been no decision to leave Iraq. Period," he said.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, then explained that the letter was released by mistake and was poorly worded, and told reporters "that's not what's happening".

The US-Iraqi relationship has been roiled after Trump approved the strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. The operation followed unrest at the US Embassy and sparked mass demonstrations.

The Iraqi parliament on Sunday passed a nonbinding resolution to terminate the agreement that allows for US troops in the country, fueling the speculation that the US would withdraw its troops.

On Sunday night, President Donald Trump was asked about the possibility that Iraq would force US troops out of the country, and threatened sanctions against Baghdad, adding that if troops did leave, Baghdad would have to pay Washington for the cost of the air base there.

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build, long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” he stressed.

Trump said that if Iraq asked US forces to leave and it was not done on a friendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”




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