Iraqis call for U.S. troops to be expelled after Trump's remarks

US President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington DC on Tuesday. — AFP  VNA

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.

The US could rely heavily on intelligence work in Afghanistan, he said, and respond to developments in Syria from US bases in neighbouring Iraq.

Citing two USA officials, the New York Times said senior United States military officers recently visited several Iraqi bases, including in Erbil and the Ayn al-Asad Airbase, to determine if existing USA operations there could be expanded with troops moving in from Syria.

"This is what a lot of people don't understand", added Trump."We're going to keep watching, and we're going to keep seeing, and if there's trouble-if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things-we're going to know it before they do".

The US general in charge of military action in the Middle East said Tuesday that he had not been consulted before President Trump abruptly announced that American troops would be leaving Syria.

"Trump did not ask us to keep USA troops to watch Iran", Salih said at a forum in Baghdad. It acknowledged progress against Islamic State and al Qaeda in Syria and Afghanistan but warned that "a precipitous withdrawal" could destabilize the region and create a vacuum that could be filled by Iran or Russian Federation.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been high since Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and imposed crippling economic sanctions against Tehran a year ago. "Certainly we were aware that he had expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart Syria", US Central Command head General Joseph Votel, who is retiring in the coming weeks, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

ISIS militants have lost territory since Trump's surprise announcement in December that he was pulling US forces out of Syria, but a Defence Department watchdog report released Monday warns the fighters could regroup within six months to a year after the Americans leave.

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The Syrian Democratic Front is a Kurdish-led coalition of fighting forces that the US military is helping to battle ISIS and other jihadist groups in Syria.

"I'll leave intelligence there and if I see nests forming, I'll do something about it", he said. Trump also ordered the military to develop plans to remove up to half of the 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan.

Trump said the United States spent a fortune on a base in Iraq.

President Trump speaks at a hanger rally at al-Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018.

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.

Trump did not meet any Iraqi officials during his three-hour stay there. "There are only Iraqi bases where some USA and non-US soldiers are present".

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said at the time that the American president's visit had broken conditions set by Baghdad.

On Monday, the Pentagon's Inspector General for the USA military mission in Syria, which is dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, released a quarterly report covering the time period from October 1 to December 31.

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