The United States has seemingly dismissed an Iraqi government request to discuss plans for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, saying the United States is "a force for good in the Middle East" and its focus and military presence in Iraq should be on fighting Islamic State (IS) militants and "protecting Americans, Iraqis, and our coalition partners."
Caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi reportedly raised the idea of a road map for a U.S. exit in a January 9 phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initiated by the U.S. side six days after a U.S. air strike killed a top Iranian general and a senior leader of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia at Baghdad airport.
There are about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, along with other countries' troops allied in an ongoing NATO mission.
"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," the State Department said in a statement on January 10.
"There does...need to be a conversation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but about our financial, economic, and diplomatic partnership," the statement added. "We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous, and stable Iraq."
Pompeo told a press conference in Washington later in the day that the U.S. administration was "happy to continue the conversation with the Iraqis about what the right structure" of its presence is.
"But as times change, and we get to a place where we can deliver on what I believe and the president believes is our right structure, with fewer resources dedicated to that mission, we will do so,” Pompeo added.
Abdul-Mahdi had asked Pompeo to "send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism" to follow through on an Iraqi parliamentary resolution from January 5 demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops, AP reported.
“The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities, and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the statement by the Iraqi prime minister's office said.
Iraq's Foreign Ministry said this week it had summoned the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad to condemn U.S. strikes in Iraq on January 3 that killed Qasem Soleimani, an Iraqi militia commander, a senior leader of a pro-Iran militia in Iraq, and several others.
Thousands of Iraqis attended a funeral procession for Soleimani before his body was flown to Iran.
The strikes are “a blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty" and "contradict the agreed-upon missions” of the anti-IS coalition presence in Iraq, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry statement said.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on January 10 that Pompeo had discussed a possibly beefed-up NATO presence in Iraq with Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.