USA forces staying in Iraq to watch Iran

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at press conference with foreign media in Bnei Brak

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at press conference with foreign media in Bnei Brak

However, he said "Now, that doesn't mean we're not going to be watching with intelligence".

Asked if the USA military in Iraq will shift its focus to "watching" Iran as Trump first brought up in a CBS interview on Sunday, Votel replied, "It has not".

But our correspondent says the United States president's latest references to Iran and the need to protect Israel point to a very different set of priorities, which is causing unease in Baghdad.

While singling out the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as "tenacious fighters", the inspector general noted the threat of a Turkish invasion against these US-backed forces, as Ankara views them to be linked to Turkish separatists.

"One of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem", he said in the interview.

In Iraq, Iran is backing mainly Shiite militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi who fought in the war against ISIS and have gained ground politically, entering the parliament where they hope to build pressure to force the Americans to leave the country.

Starting this week, the new Congress is stepping up its oversight of US military operations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, and the planned drawdowns of troops from several of those places. The White House, however, said President Trump had not ordered the Pentagon to withdraw.

Trump has asserted that because the terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria) has been "defeated" in Syria, it's time to bring US troops home.

IS will remain an issue unless Sunni "socio-economic, political, and sectarian grievances are not adequately addressed by the national and local governments of Iraq and Syria", the soldiers and diplomats argue.

Several of Trump's fellow Republicans strongly disagreed with his plans to withdraw 2,000 USA troops from Syria on the grounds that militants no longer pose a threat.

The President defended his decision in December to pull troops out of Syria, but he refused to provide a timetable for a withdrawal, the proposal of which drew criticism from members of his own Republican Party and prompted concerns among allies.

IS militants have lost territory since Trump's surprise announcement in December that he was pulling USA forces out, but military officials warn the fighters could regroup within six months to a year after the Americans leave. "We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes", he added. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving.

"The Iraqi constitution rejects the use of Iraq as a base for hitting or attacking a neighbouring country", President Barham Saleh said.

Despite Trump's order to withdraw, American officials maintain that the goal remains the "enduring defeat" of the Islamic State group and are moving ahead with a long-planned meeting of top diplomats from the 79-member USA -led anti-IS coalition this week.

The Ain al-Asad military base in Iraq to which Trump was referring was almost the site of a deadly attack over the weekend.

He added that territory under ISIS control had been reduced to less than 20 square miles and would soon be recaptured by US-backed forces prior to the withdrawal, which he said would be carried out in a "deliberate and coordinated manner".

Latest News