Iraqi president says Trump did not ask permission to 'watch Iran'

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Monday that President Donald Trump did not ask Iraq’s permission for U.S. troops stationed there to “watch Iran.”

Speaking at a forum in Baghdad, Salih was responding to a question about Trump’s comments to CBS about how he would ask troops stationed in Iraq to “watch” Iran.

U.S. troops in Iraq are there as part of an agreement between the two countries with a specific mission of combating terrorism, Salih said, and that they should stick to that.

Trump said it was important to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq so that Washington can keep a close eye on Iran “because Iran is a real problem,” according to a CBS interview broadcast on Sunday.

“Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” Salih said. “The U.S. is a major power...but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here.”

Iraq is in a difficult position as tensions between its two biggest allies, the United States and Iran, increase.

“It is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran” and other neighboring countries, Salih said.

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Trump announced in December that the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn on the grounds that Islamic State militants no longer pose a threat.

During a recent visit to Iraq, Trump said he had no plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

In a report released on Monday, the Pentagon Inspector General said Islamic State remained an active insurgent group and was regenerating functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than Syria.

“Absent sustained (counterterrorism) pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory,” the report said.

The report, citing information from U.S. Central Command, said Islamic State would portray the withdrawal as a “victory” and conduct attacks on U.S. personnel during it.

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and John Davison. Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Editing by Louise Heavens and Alistair Bell