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Iraqi president says U.S. has no right to 'watch Iran' from his country

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Image: Iraqi President Barham Saleh in the capital Baghdad
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Ahmad Al-Rubaye
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U.S. troops do not have the right to use Iraq to "watch Iran," Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Monday after Donald Trump indicated American forces were there to do just that.

"We are surprised by the statements made by the U.S. president on the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq," Salih said at a forum in Baghdad. "Trump did not ask us to keep U.S. troops to watch Iran."

In an interview that aired Sunday, Trump saidit was important to keep a military presence in Iraq so Washington could keep on eye on neighboring Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Iraq\'s President Barham Saleh in Baghdad, Iraq, during a Middle East tour in January.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Iraq\'s President Barham Saleh in Baghdad, Iraq, during a Middle East tour in January. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

The Iraqi president said U.S. troops had no right to monitor Iran under the agreement between the two nations, and that their specific mission was to combat terrorism, according to Reuters. He added that he would wait for clarifications from Washington on the numbers and nature of the U.S. troops' mission in his country.

"Those forces do not have the right to monitor many things, including watching Iran. We will not allow this," he added.

Trump's tough stance toward Iran is a hallmark his foreign policy. Since pulling out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal agreed by predecessor Barack Obama, Trump has publicly shown an uncompromising attitude toward Iran and reimposed sanctions on the country.

In an interview with CBS News' "Face the Nation," Trump said the U.S. had spent a "fortune" on the Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq, which he visited in December, and that it was "perfectly situated" to watch different parts of the Middle East.

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"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.

Asked if he meant he wanted to be able to strike Iran, Trump replied: "No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch."

Iraq has found itself in a tricky position as relations deteriorate between Tehran and Washington. Iran has been deepening its influence in Iraq since the U.S.'s 2003 invasion.

Hassan al-Kaabi, the first deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, issued a statement Sunday saying parliament would work on a bill to end the presence of U.S. troops in the country in its next session.

"All parties need, as soon as possible, to stop the U.S. presence and not allow Iraq to be used as a springboard for aggression or surveillance of any state," the statement read.

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This is not the first time an Iraqi lawmaker has called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

A variety of Iraqi lawmakers used Trump's visit to the al-Asad base in December to call on U.S. forces to leave the country. At the time of his visit, there were 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq as part of the coalition against the Islamic State.

Earlier that month, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria, claiming that the U.S. had defeated ISIS in the country. He also ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But during his visit to the Iraqi air base Trump said he had "no plans at all" to remove U.S. forces from Iraq.

Iraq announced the fight against ISIS was over on Dec. 9, 2017, after the group seized the country's second-largest city Mosul, as well as one-third of the rest of the country, before being toppled by an Iraqi military campaign that was backed by the U.S.-led coalition.