Iraq asks Trump administration to start planning U.S. troop withdrawal

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi wants U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief diplomat to send a team to Iraq and come up with a plan to withdraw American troops from the Middle Eastern nation, Mahdi’s office said Friday.

Iraqi anti-government demonstrators carry a national flag as they protest in Baghdad’s Tahrir square on Friday. Thousands of Iraqis rallied across the country, reviving a months-long protest movement against the government and adding criticism of the United States and Iran to their chants. Photo by Humam Mohamed

The prime minister’s office said Mahdi asked U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call Thursday to send delegates to “lay down the mechanisms” for safely withdrawing troops from Iraq, where the American military has had a presence for more than 15 years.

Mahdi’s office referred to a non-binding resolution that was unanimously passed by Iraqi lawmakers last weekend, which calls for the government to end the “presence of all foreign troops on Iraqi soil.”

The vote, which was boycotted by Sunni Arab and Kurdish lawmakers, followed a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and the leader of an Iraqi militia allied with Iran.

During his conversation with Pompeo, Mahdi rejected “all operations that violate [Iraq’s] sovereignty,” including Iranian missile attacks on Wednesday that targeted two U.S. bases in Iraq, his office said. He also lodged a complaint about U.S. forces and drones entering Iraq “without permission.”

Iraq’s description of Mahdi’s call with Pompeo differed from a readout supplied by by the U.S. State Department — which makes no mention of a request for a U.S. withdrawal or troop movements, CBS News reported Friday.

Meanwhile, protesters returned to the streets of Iraq on Friday. Thousands rallied in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, reviving a months-long protest movement against the government and adding criticism of both the United States and Iran to their chants.

Demonstrators have been demanding regime change, amendments to the constitution and efforts to curb widespread poverty and corruption.

Trump has threatened to sanction Iraq economically if it asks for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“We’ve spent a lot of money in Iraq,” he said last weekend. “We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday the United States hasn’t decided whether to recall troops from Iraq. His remarks followed reports of a U.S. Army memo that told Baghdad American troops were preparing for an exit.

ByDon Jacobson