Political and militia leaders condemn President Trump’s unannounced visit to US troops as a blow to Iraq’s sovereignty.
26 Dec 2018
The airbase visit by President Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, lasted for about three hours [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
In a surprise visit to US troops, Trump on Wednesday landed at an airbase west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, where he thanked the soldiers for their service.
Sabah al-Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of the Iraqi parliament „to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The US occupation of Iraq is over“.
Islah is headed by Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who has long opposed the US presence in Iraq since a Washington-led invasion toppled the government of Saddam Hussein in 2003 over weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda that both proved non-existent.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died in the conflict, which many analysts call one of the major US foreign policy debacles in recent history and one of the most destructive invasions in modern history.
The Bina bloc, Islah’s rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Trump’s trip to Iraq.
„Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,“ said a statement from Bina.
Trump did not meet any Iraqi officials during his three-hour-long stay. A scheduled meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was scrapped and the two leaders talked instead by telephone.
Mahdi’s office said in a statement that US authorities had informed Iraq’s leadership of the president’s visit in advance. The statement said the Iraqi prime minister and the US president held a telephonic conversation due to a „disagreement over how to conduct the meeting“.
Iraqi legislators told Reuters news agency that the two leaders had disagreed over where their planned meeting should take place: Trump had asked to meet at the Ain al-Asad military base, an offer Mahdi declined.
Trump’s visit to Iraq came a week after his decision to withdraw all US troops from neighbouring Syria despite strong objections from domestic and foreign allies. Pentagon chief Jim Mattis and the US envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group quit shortly after Trump’s announcement.
At the Ain al-Asad Airbase, Trump defended his decision to pull US soldiers out of Syria while insisting he has no similar plans for Iraq.
Falih Khazali, a former militia leader turned politician allied with Bina, accused the US of wanting to increase its presence in Iraq.
„The American leadership was defeated in Iraq and wants to return again under any pretext, and this is what we will never allow,“ he said.
Bina said Trump’s visit „places many question marks on the nature of the US military presence and its real objectives, and what these objectives could pose to the security of Iraq“.
Douglas Ollivant, a senior fellow at the New America think-tank and former US national security council director for Iraq, said the US troops were in Iraq „at the invitation of the Iraqi government“.
„Like all coalition governments, there are factions that say all kinds of things,“ he told Al Jazeera. „But the fact is that the executive – the last prime minister [Haider al-Abadi] and the new one hasn’t done anything to change that – has invited the US troops to be there. So, the legitimate authorities in Iraq have invited US troops.“
‚US only given us destruction and devastation‘
While there has been no full-scale violence in Iraq since ISIL suffered a series of defeats last year, some 5,200 US troops train and advise Iraqi forces still waging a campaign against the group.
Iraq’s Shia militias, also known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), many of which are supported by Iran, oppose the presence of US troops in the region. The PMF was made formally part of the security forces this year after helping the military defeat the ISIL in Iraq in 2017.
Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the powerful Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, said on Twitter: „Iraqis will respond with a parliamentary decision to oust your (US) military forces. And if they do not leave, we have the experience and the ability to remove them by other means that your forces are familiar with.“
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said there is a sense of „confusion“ in Iraq in regards to the US’s policy in the region.
„They are very concerned in Iraq about the 2,000 troops pulled out of Syria,“ he said. „Baghdad is much more safe than it has been for a very long time and the Iraqis are very confident that they can deal with ISIL within their own borders – but what really concerns them is Syria and that’s where they are less confident.“
In Baghdad’s streets, meanwhile, Iraqis denounced the US presence in the country.
„We won’t get anything from America,“ resident Mohammad Abdullah told Reuters.
„They’ve been in Iraq for 16 years, and they haven’t given anything to the country except destruction and devastation.“
Last month, a study said that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed due to the so-called „war on terror“ launched by the US in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The report by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs stated that between 182,272 and 204,575 civilians have been killed in Iraq.