The final decision on US military presence in Iraq will be made by the country’s government, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on Monday in a speech at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
“Ultimately, our force posture will be resolved inside of Iraq, we will work along the duly elected leaders in Iraq to get to the right place, but I’ve probably had 50 phone calls with various Iraqis over just these past 10 days – Sunni leaders, Kurdish leaders, Shia leaders from a broad spectrum of the Shia community as well. They won’t all say so publicly, but privately, they all welcome the fact that America is still there executing its counterterror campaign,” he said.
The US Secretary of State said he fully supported efforts of US President Donald Trump to reduce the US military presence in the region, but the “risk is not behind us.”
Commenting on the US drone strike, in which Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force was killed, Pompeo said: “I’ve also seen the mantra repeated that says that the strike that we took would unite the Iranian people around the flagpole.” “I think the Iranian people’s hearts beat for freedom,” the US top diplomat added.
Tensions in the Middle East escalated following a US drone strike near Baghdad’s airport on January 3, which killed Soleimani. Iran targeted Iraq’s Ain Al-Asad air base and a facility in Erbil, which house US troops, in retaliation for the drone attack.
The US has been attacking Shiite groups in Iraq since December 29, attracting a wave of criticism from Iraqi authorities and raising questions on whether actions of the coalition led by Washington are legitimate. On January 5, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution demanding that all foreign troops be withdrawn from the country. Trump refused to do so threatening Baghdad with “unprecedented sanctions.”.