In an interview aired by CBS on Sunday, Trump defended his decision to end “endless wars” in Syria and Afghanistan by pulling out US troops from those countries.
However, he said not all of thousands of American forces stationed in Iraq, specially at the al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s western Anbar Province, were going to return home.
“And one of the reasons I want to keep it (the base) is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem,” said the American president.
Asked whether he wanted the troops there to “strike” Iran at a later time, Trump responded: “No… All I want to do is be able to watch.”
“We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled West Asia rather than pulling up,” he added.
Trump announced in December that all US military troops in Syria would return home in the coming months while the number of US forces in Afghanistan would also be reduced drastically.
American forces have already started to evacuate their bases in northern Syria and move back to Iraq. The Pentagon has sent more troops to the region to speed up the process.
Trump made an unannounced stop at al-Asad base on Christmas, in a visit that drew fire from Iraqi officials and their counterparts in Iran and other neighboring countries.
Iraqi President Barham Salih said Wednesday that Trump had yet to ask Baghdad’s permission for US troops to stay in Iraq.
He said US forces were in Iraq under a security agreement to fight terrorism and that he looked forward to hear Washington’s clarification on the number of troops who were going to stay and their mission.
Trump’s remarks didn’t go down well with Iraqi officials, with First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Hassan Karim al-Kaabi saying Iraq will eventually force out all US troops from the country.
He also condemned Trump’s remarks about US plans to watch Iran and other neighboring countries as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and constitution.
Kaabi asserted that his country would never become a launchpad for attacks or a US backyard for intelligence gathering against other countries.
The Iraqi parliament, he said, will soon pass a bill that will end the ongoing security agreement with Washington as well as the presence of all foreign forces in Iraq.
Iraq’s Former Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also condemned Trump’s remarks, saying they were embarrassing for Baghdad.
The veteran Kurdish politician warned Iraqi officials that the country would face difficult choices in future after Trump’s controversial statements.
Jaafar al-Husseini, a Spokesman for the Iraqi pro-government Kata’ib Hezbollah voluntary forces, warned the Trump administration against mounting offensives against Iran and Syria from Iraq.
He also called on parliament to speed up legislation to drive out foreign forces, warning that the anti-terror force won’t wait long.