The Iraqi government's efforts to expel what it increasingly considers an 'unauthorized' American occupation have just escalated dramatically, as Baghdad is now urging the United Nations to expel US troops from sovereign Iraqi territory.
As we noted previously, Baghdad officials rejected a Pentagon plan to relocate some 1,000 US troops now exiting Syria to US bases in western Iraq, saying the additional troops had "no approval to stay".
On Wednesday Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced he's taking “all international legal measures” over the entry of U.S. troops from neighboring Syria, again underscoring the Pentagon had no authorization for such a move, and that the troops are "not allowed" to remain in the country, but only "transition" on their way to other US bases in Kuwait and Qatar.
“We have (already) issued an official statement saying that and are taking all international legal measures. We ask the international community and the United Nations to perform their roles in this matter,” Abdul Mahdi’ said.
He said that any American forces coming from Syria have four weeks to leave Iraq, as reported by the AP.
The firm 'red line' assertion came immediately after the prime minister met with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who arrived earlier in the day on an unannounced visit, apparently to negotiate a compromise. Without Iraq's cooperation, the White House's Syria exit strategy and its logistics are in question.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a likely attempt to placate growing Iraqi anger, said, "The aim isn't to stay in Iraq interminably. The aim is to pull our soldiers out and eventually get them back home."
Currently there are more than 5,000 American forces stationed in the country as part of a prior controversial agreement with Baghdad. One senior Pentagon official noted to Reuters this week that the situation remains "fluid and plans could change".
There's growing popular anger at the continued US presence largely due to a spate of Israeli drone strikes over the past few months on Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary bases, mostly in and around Baghdad.
Washington's priorities in the country have generally been expressed by defense officials as countering the threat of any resurgent ISIS , and preventing Iranian entrenchment and expansion in the region.