State Department Rejects Iraqi PM’s Formal Request To Begin US Troop Withdrawal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi in Baghdad on January 9, 2019. (Photo credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
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Insisting that the U.S. “is a force for good in the Middle East,” the State Department on Friday shot down Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s request that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo send delegates to devise a plan for the safe withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

“We have been unambiguous regarding how crucial our D-ISIS mission is in Iraq,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership—not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East.”

Ortagus’ response also seemed to hint at President Donald Trump’s threat to impose sanctions on Iraq and force it to “pay us back” for the American air base stationed there if the Middle Eastern country expels American forces.

“There does, however, need to be a conversation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but about our financial, economic, and diplomatic partnership,” she said.

Mahdi announced in a Facebook post that he had spoken to Pompeo over the phone on Thursday, during which he asked that the U.S. respect the Iraqi parliament’s resolution approving the expulsion of foreign forces from the country.

The past week has seen a major rise in hostilities with Iran thanks to President Donald Trump’s strike on a top Iranian military leader, and the chaos has been further complicated by the Trump administration’s fumbling response to Iraq’s decision to have foreign troops removed.

After Iraqi parliament passed its resolution on Sunday, President Donald Trump threatened to slap Iraq with “very big sanctions.”

But the next day, the Pentagon sent a letter to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense saying the U.S. would leave Iraq — then Defense Department leaders walked back the letter and told the media there was “no decision whatsoever” to leave the country.

However, the Iraqi officials said on Tuesday that they expect the U.S. to follow through with its notice anyway.

“As a state, we deal with the official letters that we receive, and we will act in accordance with this letter,” an official told the Washington Post.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper stood firm on the Pentagon’s retraction of the letter.

“We are not leaving Iraq, and a draft, unsigned letter does not constitute a policy change,” he said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

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