On December 26th, US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton made an unannounced visit to the US troops stationed in Iraq. Trump made the secret 11-hour flight on Air Force One with lights off and window shades drawn plus military jet escorts.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2018
Asked if he had concerns about making the trip, the president told reporters:
“I had concerns about the institution of the presidency. Not for myself personally. I had concerns for the first lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through in the darkened plane with all windows closed with no light anywhere. Pitch black. I’ve been on many airplanes. All types and shapes and sizes.”
“So did I have a concern? Yes, I had a concern.”
The POTUS spent several hours at the al-Asad airbase in western Iraq meeting US military leaders and addressed hundreds of troops. He did not visit Baghdad and cancelled a meeting with Iraq’s prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
In his speech which lasted roughly 20 minutes, Trump said that he had “no plans at all” to remove the US troops from the country. He also defended his decision to withdraw the 2,000 US troops stationed in Syria.
“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” he told the troops. “We’re respected again as a nation.”
“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip Isis of its military strongholds. Eight years ago, we went there for three months and we never left. Now, we’re doing it right and we’re going to finish it off,” he continued.
He further reiterated that the US presence in Syria was never aimed at being “open-ended,” despite earlier claims by James Jeffrey, the US Representative for Syria, outgoing US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and John Bolton that the US presence would continue until Iran withdraws its forces.
Earlier, when he was answering journalist questions, Trump said that he gave US generals multiple six-month extensions to get out of Syria. Trump said of the generals: “They said again, recently, can we have more time? I said, ‘Nope.’ You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time. We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly.”
In a surprising streak of common sense, Trump said that the US cannot continue to be the policeman of the world. “In Syria, [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan said he wants to knock out Isis, whatever’s left, the remnants of Isis. And Saudi Arabia just came out and said they are going to pay for some economic development. Which is great, that means we don’t have to pay.
“We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.”
Iraqi political and militia leaders expressed their discontent with Trump’s visit to their country, calling it a violation of its sovereignty.
Sabah al-Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of the Iraqi parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The US occupation of Iraq is over.”
The Bina bloc, Islah’s rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Trump’s trip to Iraq.
“Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” said a statement from Bina.
Mahdi’s office said in a statement that US authorities had informed Iraq’s leadership of the president’s visit in advance. The statement said the Iraqi prime minister and the US president held a telephonic conversation due to a “disagreement over how to conduct the meeting.”
Furthermore, the US has established two new military bases in Iraq’s Western Anbar province near the border with Syria, Farhan al-Duleimi, a member of Anbar’s provisional council said.
“The U.S. army has established two new military facilities in uninhabited parts of the province,” al-Duleimi said.
The first base had been set up in the northern Rumana subdistrict (in Anbar’s Al-Qaim district) near the Syrian border, roughly 360 kilometers west of provincial capital Ramadi.
The second base had been set up east of the city of Al-Rutbah, roughly 310 kilometers west of Ramadi and less than 100 kilometers from the Syrian border.
According to al-Duleimi, the bases are aimed at assisting the Iraqi forces “secure the country’s borders and prevent infiltrations by the Daesh terrorist group.”
There is no official US or Iraqi confirmation of the construction of the bases, but if it is fact that means the US now has 4 active military bases in the country.
Fifteen years after the 2003 invasion, the US still has upwards of 5,000 troops stationed in Iraq, despite the announcement of the defeat of ISIS in the country in December 2017.