CAIRO, TEHRAN: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that the US is still committed to fighting Daesh in Iraq and other areas despite its planned troop withdrawal from Syria, Abdul Mahdi’s office said on Saturday.
President Donald Trump has begun what will be a total withdrawal of US troops from Syria, declaring on Wednesday they had succeeded in their mission to defeat Daesh and were no longer needed.
The plan has drawn criticism from allies such as Britain and France who say the militants are not fully beaten.
“Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi received a phone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who explained the details of the upcoming withdrawal from Syria and affirmed the US is still committed to fighting Daesh and terrorism in Iraq and other areas,” Abdul Mahdi’s office said in a statement.
Abdul Mahdi and Pompeo also discussed Washington’s decision to extend for 90 days a waiver granted to Iraq from sanctions against Iran that would allow Baghdad to keep importing Iranian gas that is critical for Iraqi power production.
The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran’s energy exports in November, citing its nuclear program and meddling in the Middle East, but has granted waivers to several buyers to meet consumer energy needs.
Washington gave Iraq a 45-day waiver for imports of gas from Iran when it reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil sector on Nov. 5. Iraqi officials have said they need around two years to find an alternative source.
Iraq relies heavily on Iranian gas to feed its power stations, importing roughly 1.5 billion standard cubic feet per day via pipelines in the south and east.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that the US military presence in Syria had been “illogical and a source of tension,” Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
“From the start, the entry and presence of American forces in the region has been a mistake, illogical and a source of tension, and a main cause of instability,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted by IRNA as saying.
In its first official reaction to Trump’s decision to withdraw troops, it said that the US presence in Syria had been “wrong and illogical” from the start.
“The presence of American forces was from the very start, in principle, a wrong and illogical move and a primary cause of instability and insecurity in the region,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on his Telegram channel.
Trump vowed Thursday that the US would no longer be the “policeman of the Middle East” as he ordered troops back from Syria.
Iran has been a key supporter of the Syrian government. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have a contingent of commanders and advisers deployed in Syria in support of Bashar Assad, and have ferried weapons and thousands of militia fighters to the frontlines from various countries.
The US currently has around 2,000 forces deployed in Syria in two areas along the Iraqi border that was partly aimed at keeping Iranian forces in check.
A senior Kurdish politician on Friday called on France to play a larger role in Syria following the US withdrawal.