Secretary of State Defends US Presence in Iraq as Its Parliament Moves to Expel Troops

January 5, 2020 Updated: January 5, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the U.S. military’s presence in Iraq following a resolution passed by Iraqi members of Parliament to expel foreign troops following the death of an Iranian general.

On Sunday, the country’s Parliament voted to pass a measure that would expel foreign troops after Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi called on members to act.

“As for the activity today with respect to Iraq, we’ve been in their country. We’ve been supporting Iraqi sovereignty. We’ve been continuing to take down the terrorist threat against the Iraqi people,” Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday.”

Iraq has been torn between its close relationship with Iran and its relationship with Washington after a drone strike killed Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite paramilitary forces and intelligence agency, at the Baghdad airport.

Pompeo dismissed the claim by Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned in November but then became the acting prime minister, and said he is under considerable pressure from Tehran.

“We are confident that the Iraqi people want the United States to continue to be there to fight the counterterror campaign, and we’ll continue to do all the things we need to do to keep America safe,” Pompeo said.

Soleimani’s death was prompted by a series of events in Iraq, which included the siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. President Donald Trump and other American officials linked that activity to Iran and Soleimani, which Iran has denied. Before, the United States targeted the Kataib Hezbollah militia group in response to a rocket attack on an Iraqi base that killed a U.S. citizen and American troops.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis iraq iran
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a commander in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), pictured on Dec. 31, 2019, attends the funeral procession of Hashed al-Shaabi fighters in Baghdad, who were killed on the weekend in US air strikes on a base in western Iraq near al-Qaim, on the border with Syria.(Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week, Pompeo defended the airstrike and said it disrupted an “imminent attack” that would have endangered American lives. On Sunday, he said that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley “got it right when he said we were culpably negligent had we not gone after Soleimani when we had the opportunity.”

“I think any reasonable person who saw the intelligence that the senior American leaders had in their possession would have come to the same conclusion that President Trump and our leadership team did about the fact that there would have been more risk to America—more risk through inaction than there was through the action that we took,” Pompeo said.

Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have called for a full briefing of the intelligence that was gathered ahead of the strike. Pompeo told Fox that the White House will soon share that information about “the continuing activity,” adding there are “certain things that you cannot put out in public.”

A top military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader said Tehran would retaliate against U.S. “military sites.”

“It was America that has started the war. Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions,” Maj. Gen. Hossein Dehghan told CNN.