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U.S. forces staying in Iraq to watch Iran

05 February 2019

Why it matters: Amid bipartisan push-back against his decision to pull USA troops out of Syria, the president told CBS in an interview that ran Sunday that Al-Asad base in Anbar province, which the president visited just after Christmas, could deal with the Iranian threat.

Salih recalled that United States troops are deployed in Iraq in line with a bilateral agreement which specifically stipulates the two countries making joint efforts to fight terrorism.

Salih also emphasized Iraq's own primary political concerns, emphasizing the "fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran".

"We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble", he said.

"All I want to do is be able to watch".

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President Trump speaks at a hanger rally at al-Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. Bloomberg's Riad Hamade reports on "Bloomberg Daybreak: Middle East".

The US could rely heavily on intelligence work in Afghanistan, he said, and respond to developments in Syria from US bases in neighbouring Iraq. "The US is a major power. but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here".

"We're at 99 percent right now, we'll be at 100", said the president, who was expected to make the announcement during his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday.

But after Trump announced his intention to withdraw forces from Syria, U.S. military and intelligence officials have been vocal that the group still poses a security threat.

And, he said if al Qaeda and other terrorist groups grew in strength, USA forces would return to the region.

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Iraq's constitution stipulates that its territory will not be used to commit transgressions against any other nation, deputy parliament speaker Hassan Karim al-Kaabi pointed out, adding that the parliament will work on legislation to kick U.S. troops out.

Trump implied better practical intelligence on Iran's activity is vitally needed because too many of his critics seem to believe Iran is "a wonderful kindergarten". Meanwhile, as renewed American sanctions on Iran begin to bite, Tehran will rely more heavily on Iraq for trade. Qais al-Khazali, head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, also suggested USA troops may eventually be driven out by force if they do not yield to the will of the Iraqi people.

"Memories of occupation are still fresh, and we're rubbing salt on that", Douglas Ollivant, a former National Security Council director for Iraq, told Al-Monitor.

Earlier this month, the leader of one of Iraq's most powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias told The Associated Press in an interview that he expects a vote in the coming months by Iraq's parliament calling for the withdrawal of USA troops.

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U.S. forces staying in Iraq to watch Iran