Washington (AFP) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged Monday that Iraqi leaders have told him privately they support the US troop presence, despite public appeals for them to leave.
The Iraqi parliament last week voted to rescind the invitation to foreign troops after a US strike at the Baghdad airport killed a top general from Iran, which also has wide influence in the country.
But Pompeo — whose State Department often insists it cannot divulge details of his calls — said he heard a different message in conversations with around 50 Iraqi leaders since the start of the month.
“They won’t say so publicly. But privately they all welcome the fact that America is still there executing its counter terror campaign,” Pompeo said in response to a question at a forum at Stanford University.
The US troops are ensuring that the Islamic State extremist group does not re-emerge and “providing an opportunity for the Iraqis to gain the sovereignty and independence that most Iraqis want,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo — who shared the stage with a predecessor, Condoleezza Rice — said he spoke to leaders of all backgrounds in Iraq including the Shiite majority, which enjoys religious ties with Iran.
The United States on January 3 killed General Qasem Solemani, the powerful commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, after a series of rocket attacks on the US military and vandalism of the US embassy.
Trump has even threatened to impose economic sanctions if Iraq evicts the 5,200 US troops.
Two Iraqi officials told AFP President Donald Trump warned that the United States would block the country’s account at the Federal Reserve bank in New York, a step that would devastate the oil producer’s economy.
The stance comes despite Trump’s repeated assertions that military deployments are too costly and that the 2003 invasion — which ousted dictator Saddam Hussein but unleashed nationwide bloodletting — was a mistake.
Pompeo said the United States remained interested in reducing its footprint in the longer term.
“To the extent we can use less American treasure and put fewer American lives at risk, we ought to do that,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo last week rejected a request by Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, to send a delegation to discuss a troop withdrawal.