US to review troop presence in Iraq
US to halve troop presence in Iraq after parliament votes for withdrawal
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the country is reviewing its military presence in Iraq.
The US has proposed a review of its continued military presence in Iraq, coming weeks after Iraq’s parliament voted for the withdrawal of American troops.
“All strategic issues between our two countries will be on the agenda, including the future presence of the United States forces in that country and how best to support an independent and sovereign Iraq,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters.
“It’s important our two governments work together to stop any reversal of the gains we’ve made in our efforts to defeat Isis and stabilise the country,” he added.
Pompeo’s announcement is timely. Iraq’s prime minister-designate, Adnan al-Zurfi celebrated the withdrawal of troops on Sunday.
In a televised address he told the nation the US pledged that half of its 5,200 troops would leave the country before the end of the year and asked the US ambassador in Iraq “to schedule a withdrawal”.
“We don’t need a foreign army in Iraq,” Mr Zurfi said, and, asked about his comments, a US official said that “it will take time for both parties to make preparations for the proposed strategic dialogue; we would hope that Iraq would have a new government in place by the time those talks begin”.
This comes as the US and Iran continue to engage in skirmishes in Iraq.
Last week Iran said it “only acts in self-defence” after President Donald Trump warned it and its allies against attacking US troops in Iraq.
“Unlike the US – which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates – Iran only acts in self defence,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted at the time.
“Don’t be misled by usual warmongers, AGAIN,” he wrote, and also cautioned that “Iran starts no wars, but teaches lessons to those who do.”
Tensions have come to a head between Tehran and Washington after Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement initially brokered by former president Barack Obama, and reimposed sweeping sanctions in 2018.
The two giants clashed in January when the US killed Iran’s Major General Qasem Soleimani in a Baghdad drone strike, following attacks on its troops in Iraq that Washington blamed on Iran-backed armed groups.
Iran retaliated by firing at bases in Iraq housing US troops.
Trump warned Iran on Wednesday that it would pay a "heavy price" in the event of further attacks on US troops.
He tweeted that "upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq."
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In response, Zarif wrote on Twitter that "Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of 'proxies'"
Iraq’s government stands on a knife edge
On Monday Iraq appeared to have entered into a new political crisis after the main Iraqi Shia political blocs gave only tentative backing to a plan that would appoint a new Prime Minister-designate, Mustafa Kazemi, to replace current Prime Minister-designate Adnan Zurfi.
Zurfi was named by President Barham Salih as Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate on March 17. However, his nomination was rejected by the country’s main Shia parties, who accused him of being too pro-American.
He had previously been governor of the holy city of Najaf and had been appointed to that role by Paul Bremer, the head of the US’s occupation administration of Iraq, in 2004.
“Kazemi is worried that his nomination is just a political game to get rid of Zurfi and then appoint yet another candidate, while preserving Abdel Mahdi’s government”, anonymous sources told The New Arab’s Arabic-sister site.