Saairun Alliance parliament member Ali Ghawi on Monday said that the
US Embassy in Baghdad is pressuring the Iraqi government and a number of
political blocs and government figures to maintain the presence of US forces in
Ghawi, however, did not provide any evidence supporting his claim.
The top Pentagon official assured Iraqi leaders earlier this month that the US will stick to its limited military role in Iraq, a message aimed at recent talk by some Iraqi politicians of forcing a US troop withdrawal.
Pat Shanahan, the acting secretary of defense, said that in talks with Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, he stressed US respect for Iraqi sovereignty, an issue that has become a hot-button topic among Iraqis since President Donald Trump suggested using Iraq as a base for monitoring neighboring Iran and for potential attacks against remaining elements of ISIS group in Syria.
"I wanted to make clear to him (Abd al-Mahdi) that we recognize our role," Shanahan told reporters later after he flew to Brussels, Belgium. "We understand that we're there by invitation, and that we jointly share the resources and that we clearly recognize their sovereignty."
Shanahan said he did not raise the possibility of moving additional US troops into Iraq to offset the coming withdrawal of American forces from Syria.
The US has about 5,200 troops in Iraq as trainers and advisers to Iraqi security forces in their battle against insurgent elements of ISIS group that once controlled large swaths of Iraqi territory. He said they discussed "how we can generate more capacity and capability in the Iraqi security forces."
Shanahan, who had not previously been to Iraq and is on the second leg of his first international trip as the acting Pentagon chief, said he was mindful of Iraqi parliamentary proposals to "restrict the number of US forces in Iraq." He said he also emphasized to Abd al-Madhi the role security plays in Iraq's economic future.
"We really talked about that economic security," Shanahan said.
Trump upset Iraqis by saying earlier this month that US forces should use their Iraqi positions to keep an eye on neighboring Iran. That is not the stated US mission in Iraq, and Iraqi officials have said Trump's proposal would violate the Iraqi constitution.
Trump also has angered Iraqi politicians by arguing that he would keep US troops in Iraq and use the country as a base from which to strike extremists in Syria if necessary, after the 2,000 troops now in Syria depart in coming weeks.
Curbing foreign influence has become a prominent topic in Iraq after parliamentary elections last year in which Shiite politicians backed by Iran made significant gains. Meanwhile, Shiite militias that fought alongside US-backed Iraqi government troops against ISIS in recent years, gained outsized influence along the way.
US forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but they returned in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle ISIS group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq's second largest city, Mosul.