There are roughly 50,000 American troops in the Middle East -- with several thousand more on the way -- 6,000 of whom are in Iraq. This past weekend, the Iraqi parliament voted unanimously to expel U.S. forces from Iraqi soil, a vote that came in response to the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Evidently, officials in Baghdad weren't just blowing off steam. NBC News reported this morning that Iraq, our ostensible ally, has directly requested that the United States begin the planning process that would end our military presence in the country.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said in a statement Friday that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call "to send a delegation to Iraq to put a mechanism [in place] for implementing the Iraqi parliament decision to safely withdraw troops from Iraq."This was, he said, because "Iraq is keen to keep the best relations with its neighbors and friends within the international community, and to protect foreign representations and interests and all those present on Iraqi soil."
As we've discussed, the initial response from the Trump administration to the Iraqi parliament's vote was acquiescence. Earlier this week, officials in Baghdad received a signed letter from Marine Brig. Gen. William Seely, who commands Task Force Iraq, not only declaring the U.S. intention to withdraw, but including specific and detailed information about how it would occur.
In apparent reference to the Iraqi parliament’s vote, the letter said, “We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.”
Today, however, the administration had an entirely new message for our allies in Baghdad: We're not leaving. The New York Times reported:
The State Department on Friday rebuffed the Iraqi government's request to begin discussions on pulling out troops, saying that any American officials going to Baghdad during a state of heightened tensions would not discuss a "troop withdrawal," as the Iraqi prime minister had requested. Instead, discussions would be about the "appropriate force posture in the Middle East."The statement from Washington was a direct rebuttal to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq, and was certain to add to the friction between the two nations.
Well, yes, I'd say "friction" is inevitable when one country asks another to leave, and the response is, "No."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters this morning that the administration is "going to continue" its mission in Iraq, and a State Department spokesperson insisted that the United States is a "force for good" in the region.
It appears Iraq may have come to a different conclusion. It also appears the Trump administration doesn't care.