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Trump Tells Iraqi Prime Minister US Troops Will Be 'Leaving Shortly'


U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, as a translator listens in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Aug. 20, 2020.

Sitting alongside the new Iraqi prime minister in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump promised that thousands of U.S. troops in his guest’s country will “be getting out” and “we’ll be leaving shortly,” but there was no announcement of a specific time frame.

“At some point, we obviously will be gone. We've brought it down to a very, very low level,” the president said in response to questions from reporters. “We look forward to the day when we don't have to be there, and hopefully, Iraq can live their own lives and they can defend themselves, which they've been doing long before we got involved."

Pressed by journalists for a declaration of a deadline, Trump deferred to his secretary of state, who was in the room.

"As soon as we can complete the mission,” Mike Pompeo responded. “The president has made very clear he wants to get our forces down to the lowest level as quickly as we possibly can. That’s the mission he’s given us, and we're working with the Iraqis to achieve that."

The United States has about 5,000 troops in Iraq tasked with counterterrorism operations and training Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told Trump he was “grateful for all the support the United States gave us during the war against ISIS. This support strengthens our partnership for the best interest for our nation.”

Al-Kadhimi has vowed to crack down on corruption in Iraq, a move seen vital to attract substantial foreign investment, especially from the United States.

FILE - U.S. soldiers are seen during a hand-over ceremony in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, March 30, 2020.
FILE - U.S. soldiers are seen during a hand-over ceremony in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, March 30, 2020.

Another topic on Thursday’s agenda, according to the White House, was Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

"We have a very good relationship with the Kurds, and we've also treated them very well,” Trump told reporters, praising their cooperation with the United States in defeating the so-called Islamic State group.

Al-Kadhimi, a former journalist who became his country’s intelligence chief, took office in May — his country’s third prime minister in 10 weeks — at a time of strained U.S.-Iraq ties.

Four months before he assumed office, a U.S. drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, prompting Shi'ite legislators to demand U.S. troops leave Iraq.

Al-Kadhimi has promised to reign in Iran-backed militias, which yield significant influence on the streets of his country.

Iraq also has a heavy dependence on Iranian electricity and fuel, which Washington wants to see stopped.

Five U.S. companies signed agreements in principle on Wednesday with the Iraqi government aimed at boosting that country’s energy independence from Iran.

Baker Hughes, Chevron, General Electric, Honeywell International, and Stellar Energy signed commercial agreements worth as much as $8 billion with the Iraqi ministers of oil and electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

“Iraq is open for American business and investment,” the Iraqi prime minister said Thursday.

Pompeo announced Wednesday the United States is giving an additional $204 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraqi citizens, Iraqi refugees and refugee-hosting communities.

“We're committed to helping Iraq achieve economic prosperity, freedom from foreign meddling in its internal affairs, and improve relationships with its neighbors, as well,” Pompeo said. “This is what the Iraqi people want too — a stable, prosperous, independent Iraq.”

Pompeo also urged Iraqi officials to intensify efforts to contain pro-Iran militia groups.

Shortly after Trump’s meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, the State Department expressed outrage over the assassination of civil society activists in the country and by attacks on protesters in Baghdad and Basra.

"We urge the government of Iraq to take immediate steps to hold accountable the militias, thugs, and criminal gangs attacking Iraqis exercising their right to peaceful protest," said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus in a statement.

Although Iraq declared victory over Islamic State three years ago, IS sleeper cells continue to carry out attacks in northern Iraq.

“It’s a very, very unstable part of the world,” Trump noted Thursday.