Trump Says US Troops Will Leave Iraq 'Shortly' But Provides No Timeline
Pompeo said it would take place "as soon as we can complete the mission."
All U.S. troops will leave Iraq “shortly,” President Donald Trump said on Thursday, but he gave no specific date or timeline speaking to reporters following a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi at the White House.
“We have been taking our troops out of Iraq fairly rapidly, and we look forward to the day when we don’t have to be there. And hopefully Iraq can live their own lives and they can defend themselves, which they’ve been doing long before we got involved,” Trump said.
“We were there, and now we’re getting out,” he continued. “We’ll be leaving shortly.”
Trump has expressed repeated frustration with U.S. deployments around the globe. Roughly 5,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Iraq, training and supporting the Iraqi military, including in the ongoing fight against ISIS. Meanwhile, months of rocket attacks by Iran-aligned militias on U.S. interests in Iraq, including many in Baghdad’s Green Zone, have caused U.S. forces to pull back from bases across Iraq and turn them over to Iraqi security partners. Pentagon officials have said that the base hand-offs were part of a long-planned consolidation that also reflected the success of the anti-ISIS fight.
Pressed on a specific timeline for withdrawal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that it would take place “as soon as we can complete the mission.”
“The president has made very clear he wants to get our forces down to the lowest level as quickly as we possibly can,” Pompeo said. “That’s the mission he’s given us, and we’re working with Iraqis to achieve that.”
After a meeting on Wednesday with Iraq’s foreign affairs minister, Fuad Hussein, Pompeo said the United States will continue to support Iraq’s security forces in the fight against ISIS and “to curb the power of militias that have for far long terrorized the Iraqi people and undermined Iraq’s national sovereignty.”
Kadhimi’s visit to the United States comes at what officials on both sides hope will be a transitional moment for U.S.-Iraq relations, which have been rocky for over a year. Iraq has found itself caught between the Trump administration’s aggressive posture towards Iranian influence in the region and the power that its next-door neighbor wields in Baghdad, both politically and through its use of Shiite militias. Kadhimi, who came to power in May when his predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, resigned amid a bloody crackdown on protesters demanding his departure, is liked and supported by military and political officials in Washington. He is seen as reform-minded and is expected to try to curb the threat from the rogue militias. His predecessor, Hussein noted Thursday afternoon during an event at the U.S. Institute for Peace, was never invited to the White House during his tenure as prime minister.
In an interview with the Associated Press shortly before his departure for Washington, Kadhimi — who is making his first visit as prime minister to the United States — vowed to crack down on the groups, who have been staging near-daily attacks in Baghdad.
“We are committed to reforming the security establishment and enhancing its ability to deal with these kinds of challenges and holding accountable those who fail to protect civilians and put an end to these outlawed groups,” he said.
The meetings this week were part of a broader strategic dialogue between the two countries to reconfigure relations.
“There is still work to do,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department on Wednesday. “Armed groups not under the full control of the prime minister have impeded our progress. Those groups need to be replaced by local police as soon as possible. I assured Dr. Fuad that we could help and we would help.”