Iraqi President Barham Salih rebuffed President Donald Trump's insistence on Sunday that the U.S. would maintain a military presence in Iraq to "watch Iran," telling the American leader not to burden Iraqis with his own political drama.
"Don't overburden Iraq with your own issues... We are not part of the U.S. battle with Iran," Salih said during an international forum in Baghdad, adding that he did not give Trump permission to use his country as a base to "watch Iran."
Trump expressed his intentions for continued a U.S. presence in the war-weary country during an interview with CBS aired Sunday, saying Iraq was "perfectly situated" to keep an eye on Iran and other countries in the region. The president had previously called for drawing down troop numbers in the country after having campaigned on ending years of U.S. warfare in the Middle East.
Iraq has long been characterized as a playing field for competing powers, with Iran enjoying significant influence in the majority-Shia country since the American invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003. The U.S., as well as its Gulf allies, view Iran's fortified presence in Iraqi politics as a direct threat to their interests and to regional stability.
"We spent a fortune on building this incredible base, we might as well keep it," Trump told CBS, alluding to the Ayn al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq. "And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran."
He denied wanting to attack the Islamic Republic, however, saying, "All I want to do is be able to watch."
"We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do," he said.