Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei said this Saturday during a meeting with Iraqi President that the presence of even one single US soldier is too much in Iraq.
Heading a high-ranking delegation, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid arrived in Tehran this Saturday morning at an official invitation by his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi. After receiving a warm welcome from Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, Ehsan Khandozi, at the Mehrabad International Airport, Iraqi President met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei.
During the meeting, Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rashid addressed many issues of common interest, including the presence of American forces in Iraq, which has been a point of contention in recent years. Iran’s Leader then reiterated his country’s strategic position that American troops should leave the West Asia region, particularly Iraq, as soon as possible.
“The presence of even one American in Iraq is too much,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, adding that “Americans are not friends with anyone and are not even loyal to their European allies”. In the meeting, the Leader emphasized that the progress, prosperity, independence, and advancement of Iraq is very important for the Islamic Republic and that the expansion of bilateral cooperation and the implementation of agreements are in the interest of both countries. “The Islamic Republic of Iran stands by Iraq and our wish is to see Iraq’s progress,” he added.
Iran’s leader also called for Iran and Iraq to expand bilateral cooperation. “The expansion and deepening of relations between Iran and Iraq have strong enemies, and if there were no strong historical and religious ties between the two countries, perhaps the state of relations would have returned to the situation that existed during Saddam’s time,” he said.
Khamenei’s comment, a slap in the face of US Secretary of Defense
Khamenei’s comments about the necessity of the US zero-presence in Iraq followed US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s unannounced trip to Baghdad last month, when Austin said that US troops were “ready to remain in Iraq.” Austin, who in March became the highest-ranking Cabinet official to visit Iraq since the start of the Biden administration, had said he was in the country to “reaffirm the US-Iraq strategic partnership as we move toward a more secure, stable and sovereign Iraq.”
As of now, the US maintains a considerable number of troops in discrete bases in Iraq under the declared policy of helping Iraq counter terrorist groups such as ISIS. Iran, on the other hand, has long called for US withdrawal from Iraq, especially after the US assassinated Iran’s General Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad. Since then, many Iranian officials have been underscoring that expelling American forces from Iraq is a strategic goal that Iran is pursuing.
In line with this goal, the Iraqi parliament passed a bill days after the assassination of General Soleimani to put an official end to the US presence in Iraq. Since then, the number of American troops in Iraq has decreased, but Iraqi efforts to expel American troops have not reached a concrete result, with the US continuing to maintain forces in the Arab country.
Iraqi President Rashid, in a statement after his meeting with Khamenei, underscored the importance of Iraq-Iran relations but did not respond to his comments on the presence of Americans in Iraq. The Iraqi president also appreciated the assistance and support of the Iranian government and people for his country in different eras, especially in their fight against terrorism.