Trump: It’s not ‘the right point’ for US to leave Iraq

President Trump said Tuesday a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was not imminent amid the fallout of the operation that killed a top Iranian general while he was in Baghdad.

“Eventually we want to be able to let Iraq run its own affairs, and that’s very important. So at some point we want to get out. But this isn’t the right point,” Trump told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with the Greek prime minister.

Trump said an impending U.S. withdrawal would be “the worst thing that could happen to Iraq,” reasoning it would give Iran even more influence in the region. But he made clear he hoped the U.S. would not remain there indefinitely.

“Eventually they have to be able to defend themselves and take care of themselves, and it’s something ultimately that I want to see,” he added. “We don’t want to be there forever. We want to be able to get out.”

Trump reiterated his previous statement that he would ask the Iraqi government to repay the costs of a joint American and Iraqi air base if the U.S. is forced out of the country. He also repeated his warning that sanctions were possible if the U.S. was not “treated with respect” by Iraqi officials.

The U.S.-Iraqi relationship has been roiled after Trump approved the strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. The operation followed unrest at the U.S. Embassy and sparked mass demonstrations.

The Iraqi parliament on Sunday passed a nonbinding resolution to terminate the agreement that allows for U.S. troops in the country.

Further adding to the confusion, an unsigned but authentic letter from the Pentagon circulated Monday indicating the U.S. would reposition its troops in preparation for a possible withdrawal.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters a short time after the letter surfaced that it was a draft that should not have been released.

“That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released,” Milley told reporters in an off-camera briefing. “Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has adamantly denied that U.S. is withdrawing from Iraq, reiterating Tuesday in an interview with CNN that the letter was a draft and not an official reflection of policy.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he had not seen the letter. He deferred to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that it was a mistake.

The confusion surrounding U.S. troop presence in the region has led to additional scrutiny of the Trump administration’s plans moving forward in the aftermath of the strike that killed Soleimani.

Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, oversaw Iranian proxy forces in the region and was one of the country’s most prominent officials.

His death has reignited tensions between Washington and Tehran and sparked concerns about a prolonged conflict. Iranian officials have vowed a response, while Trump has threatened to forcefully strike Iran if the country targets Americans or American assets over Soleimani’s killing.

Tags Donald Trump Iran Iran strike Iraq Mark Esper Mike Pompeo Qassem Soleimani

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