By Jack Detsch for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister privately does not want US troops to withdraw, several sources familiar with the situation told Al-Monitor, though Adel Abdul Mahdi publicly backed a recent parliamentary vote that urged the Donald Trump administration to exit the war-torn country.
Despite calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to send an American delegation to Iraq to negotiate the withdrawal of US troops in a readout of a Friday call, Abdul Mahdi is trying to find a way to keep an American presence in the country while attempting to placate Iran-backed militia leaders who want to force 5,200 US troops out, a source familiar with the situation on the ground said.
Press Briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo And Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
Good evening. Myself, with Secretary Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley, came here to Florida today to brief the President on the activities that have taken place in the Middle East over the course of the last 72 hours.
I will leave to Secretary Esper to talk about the military activity, but I want to put it in the context of our policy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The attacks that took place against an Iraqi facility threatened American forces. This has been going on now for weeks and weeks and weeks. This wasn’t the first set of attacks against this particular Iraqi facility and others where there were American lives at risk.
And today, what we did was take a decisive response that makes clear what President Trump has said for months and months and months, which is that we will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.
We will — we will always honor that commitment to take decisive action when that takes place, and we continue to demand that the Islamic Republic of Iran act in a way that is consistent with what I laid out, back in May of 2018, for what it is that we expect Iran to do so that it can rejoin the community of nations.And with that, I’ll turn it over to the Secretary of Defense.
Thank you. As we reported earlier today, the Department of Defense took offensive actions in defense of our personnel and interests in Iraq by launching F-15 Strike Eagles against five targets associated with Kata’ib Hezbollah, which is an Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group. The targets we attacked included three targets in Western Iraq and two targets in Eastern Syria that were either command and control facilities or weapons caches for Kata’ib Hezbollah.
The strikes were successful. The pilots and aircraft returned back to base safely. I would add that, in our discussion today with the President, we discussed with him other options that are available. And I would note also that we will take additional actions as necessary to ensure that we act in our own self-defense and we deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran. Thank you.
The following is attributable to US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus:
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo spoke [on Tuesday] with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi.
Secretary Pompeo emphasized that peaceful public demonstrations are a fundamental element of all democracies. The Secretary deplored the death toll among the protesters as a result of the Government of Iraq’s crackdown and use of lethal force, as well as the reports of kidnapped protesters.
Secretary Pompeo urged Prime Minister Abd al-Mahdi to take immediate steps to address the protesters’ legitimate grievances by enacting reforms and tackling corruption. He reaffirmed the United States’ enduring commitment to a strong, sovereign, and prosperous Iraq, as outlined in our bilateral Strategic Framework Agreement.
Secretary Pompeo pledged to continue to support the Iraqi Security Forces in fighting ISIS.
Press Statement by US Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo (pictured), on the situation in Iraq:
The United States welcomes any serious efforts made by the Government of Iraq to address the ongoing problems in Iraqi society. The Government of Iraq should listen to the legitimate demands made by the Iraqi people who have taken to the streets to have their voices heard.
The United States is closely monitoring the situation and from the beginning we have called on all sides to reject violence. The Government of Iraq’s investigation into the violence in early October lacked sufficient credibility and the Iraqi people deserve genuine accountability and justice.
As the efforts announced by President Salih begin, the recently imposed severe restrictions on freedom of the press and of expression must be relaxed. Press freedom is inherent to democratic reform. The U.S. government continues to support Iraqi institutions, the Iraqi people, and Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty.
By Robbie Gramer, for Foreign Policy. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Pompeo Seeks to Make Baghdad Embassy Pullout Permanent, Officials Say
In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered a partial evacuation of diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq amid escalating tensions with Iran.
Now, several State Department officials say they are being told the drawdown in embassy staff will effectively become permanent, a move that could leave the U.S. Embassy short-staffed to undertake important tasks like countering Iran on the diplomatic front—and in the short-term has marooned hundreds of diplomats in the Washington area without an embassy to go back to.
Contrary to recent reports that the US had granted a waiver to Iraq to allow it to continue buying power from Iran, a State Department spokeswoman reportedly said on Wednesday that this was not the case.
Reuters quotes Morgan Ortagus as telling reporters that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not made a decision on this issue.