(The WASHINGTON TIMES ) The U.S. and Iraq opened talks Wednesday on a new agreement to allow U.S. forces to remain in the country, just days after Mr. Trump angered top officials in Baghdad by outlining plans to keep a military footprint in Iraq indefinitely to “watch” neighboring Iran and prevent a resurgence of terror groups such as ISIS.
The negotiations come amid the meeting this week of the U.S.-organized “Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS,” the 79-nation consortium spearheading the fight against ISIS.
The sensitivity of the troop deployment issue was underscored again Wednesday when Iraq’s most prominent cleric, Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, joined the country’s political leaders in rejecting Mr. Trump’s remarks.
Iraq “rejects being a launching pad for harming any other country,” the influential ayatollah said during a meeting with U.N. Iraq envoy Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert at the cleric’s base in Najaf, the Associated Press reported.
President Trump visited the Al-Asad air base in western Iraq the day after Christmas and has cited the large American contingent deployed there as one key reason the U.S. can afford to pull out 2,000 troops battling ISIS and other terror groups across the border in Syria. While the base hosts American troops and material, it belongs to Iraq.