Iraqi government asks US to set mechanisms for 'safe withdrawal of troops from Iraq'

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Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to send representatives to Iraq to set mechanisms for the withdrawal of US troops after the Iraqi Parliament voted to end US troop presence in the country, according to a statement released by the prime minister’s office on Friday.

The request puts additional pressure on the United States after the Iraqi parliament voted Sunday for a plan to end the US troop presence in Iraq in a rebuke of the targeted airstrike on Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani last week — even after attempts by the US to staunch the vote.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that the US wants to focus on the US-Iraq partnership, not troop withdrawal.

“At this time, 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,” Ortagus said.

US officials tried to convince Iraqi leaders to prevent the parliamentary vote from occurring Sunday, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. Despite US officials claiming it would be harmful for Iraq to follow through on such a move and hold the vote at all, ultimately the argument fell flat.

The Iraqi Prime Minister also complained to Pompeo during a phone call Thursday that “there are American forces entering Iraq and American drones in its sky without permission from the Iraqi government, and that this is violation of the agreements between the two countries,” the statement said.

Pompeo promised “to follow up on the matter and affirmed his country’s respect for Iraq sovereignty,” according to the statement.

The State Department said in a statement Thursday that the two leaders spoke and Pompeo reiterated the United States’ condemnation of the Iranian missile attack on the Iraqi bases housing US troops earlier in the week.

The request to facilitate a troop withdrawal comes after President Donald Trump on Sunday threatened sanctions on Iraq should US troops be expelled from the country.

“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever,” Trump said aboard Air Force One, according to a pool report. “It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

Trump said the costs of maintaining an American troop presence in the country over the past many years should be repaid by Iraq if the country chooses to rescind the agreement allowing them to stay.

“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,” Trump said.

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