BAGHDAD: Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric joined criticism on Wednesday of President Donald Trump’s plan to keep US troops in Iraq to counter Iran.
Iraq wants good relations with all its neighbors “based on mutual interests and without intervention in internal affairs,” and “rejects being a launching pad for harming any other country,” Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani said.
Trump said last week that US troops should remain at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq, which belongs to the Iraqi army.
“We spent a fortune on building this incredible base,” he said. “We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi reminded Trump that there were no US bases in Iraq and called on him to retract his statements.
President Barham Saleh said Trump had not asked for permission to use Iraqi territory to monitor Iran. “Don’t burden Iraq with your own issues,” he said.
Trump’s comments added to concerns in Iraq about America’s long-term intentions, particularly after it withdraws its troops from Syria. However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured allies on Wednesday that the pullout was only tactical and called on them to recommit to permanently defeating Daesh in Syria and Iraq.
“US troops withdrawing from Syria is not the end of America’s fight,” Pompeo said. “The fight is one we will continue to wage alongside you. To that end, we ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue. Those requests are likely to come very soon.”