Foreign Policy

Pompeo rebuffs Iraqi leader on U.S. troop pullout

Pompeo is doing damage control following the leak of a draft letter from a U.S. general to an Iraqi counterpart this week laying out steps for a troop withdrawal.

Mike Pompeo

The State Department is urging the Iraqi government to "recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal" after the Iraqi prime minister requested the United States dispatch a delegation to chart how to pull out its 5,200 troops.

"We have been unambiguous regarding how crucial our [anti-ISIS] mission is in Iraq," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement Friday. "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 is calling for those talks to address not just security issues but building a stronger overall partnership between the two nations.

The insistence that U.S. troops should remain to fight terrorism is the latest attempt by Washington to push back on the Iraqi Parliament's non-binding vote insisting U.S. troops leave following the U.S. drone strike last week that killed Iranian paramilitary leader Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

A statement earlier in the day said Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi had requested that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo send a delegation "to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq."

“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 added.

Pompeo is doing damage control following the leak of a draft letter from a U.S. general to an Iraqi counterpart this week laying out steps for a troop withdrawal. The Pentagon has repeatedly said it was not authorized to be sent and there are no plans to withdraw troops.

"America is a force for good in the Middle East," Ortagus said in her statement. "Our military presence in Iraq is to continue the fight against ISIS and as the Secretary has said, we are committed to protecting Americans, Iraqis, and our coalition partners."

She also reiterated President Donald Trump's call on Thursday for more NATO countries to step up their role in the region.

"Today, a NATO delegation is at the State Department to discuss increasing NATO’s role in Iraq, in line with the President’s desire for burden sharing in all of our collective defense efforts," Ortagus said. "There does, however, need to be a conversation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but about our financial, economic, and diplomatic partnership. We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous, and stable Iraq."