BAGHDAD: Iraqi political parties have demanded the withdrawal of US troops from their country hours after a “surprise” visit by Donald Trump to American forces based there.
The US president and his wife Melania flew into Al-Asad military base in Anbar province on Wednesday, where he stayed for three hours but did not meet Iraqi officials.
Iraqi politicians told Arab News the visit was not coordinated with the government and many considered the trip an insult and a “flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”
Several Shiite leaders said they would respond by attempting to mobilize enough support to vote on a law that compels the Iraqi government to expel US troops. Some armed factions threatened to target the US troops if Washington refused to withdraw them.
“The visit of the US president … is a violation of diplomatic norms and clear evidence of US disregard for international laws that bind states together,” Salam Al-Shimiri, an MP from the Reform parliamentary bloc led by cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, said on Thursday.
“The Parliament which is the legitimate representative of all Iraqis, must express a clear and rapid position related to the ongoing violations of Iraqi sovereignty that have been committed by the American side.”
Qais Al-Khazali, commander of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, one of the most powerful factions backed by Iran who led several attacks against US, troops in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, said Iraqis’ response to the visit will be voting in Parliament on legislation to expel American forces.
“If your troops do not come out, we have the experience and the ability to push them out,” Khazali wrote on Twitter.
Trump’s visit was his first to US troops in Iraq. George W. Bush and Barack Obama made similar visits, which were covert but included meetings with Iraqi officials. The then Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki met Obama at the Victory Base, near Baghdad Airport in 2009.
During his visit, Trump thanked US troops for their efforts in fighting terrorism. He arrived at an airport in Jordan before moving on to Al-Asad in a military helicopter. Phone and internet networks were blocked in the region during the visit, military sources said.
The Iraqi government said it was aware of the visit, which was aimed at “congratulating the new Iraqi government and visiting the US military within the international coalition forces.”
The office of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said a formal meeting was supposed to take place between the two leaders, “but the divergence of views related to the arrangements led to replacing the meeting with a phone call.”
An agreement signed between Iraq and the US in 2011 required the Iraqi government’s prior permission be obtained for any visits by US officials to forces present in Iraq.
Iraqi officials familiar with security procedures related to similar visits told Arab News that any aircraft flying in Iraqi airspace, whether military or civilian, needs to coordinate with Iraqi aviation authorities to ensure a safe air route.
Sources close to Abdul Mahdi told media that Trump had called Abdul Mahdi and asked to meet him at the base, but the Iraqi prime minister refused. “All things indicate that Trump contacted Abdul Mahdi after he arrived at the base not before it, so Abdul Mahdi refused his invitation to meet him there because he wanted an official visit under the protocol, not a visit going in the dark,” a senior Iraqi official close to the prime minister told Arab News.