Iraqi politicians on Monday hit back at Donald Trump after the US president said he plans to keep American forces in the country to spy on Iran.
In an interview with CBS television, Trump reaffirmed his determination to pull the United States out of "endless wars" in Syria and Afghanistan but said American troops would stay on in Iraq, partly "to be looking a little bit at Iran."
He said it was important to keep a US military presence in Iraq so that Washington can keep a close eye on Iran.
"We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it," he said, referring to Ain al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq that he visited in December. "If somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do," he said in the interview aired on Sunday.
His comments sparked a new round of demands in Baghdad for US forces to leave the country.
Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Monday that Trump did not ask Iraq’s permission for US 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.
US 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.
"Any action taken outside this framework is unacceptable," he said.
"The Iraqi Constitution rejects the use of Iraq as a base for hitting or attacking a neighboring country," Saleh added.
‘Good relations with Iran’
Iraq is in a difficult position as tensions between its two biggest allies, the United States and Iran, increase.
“Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” Salih said. “The US is a major power ... but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here.”
“It is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran” and other neighboring countries, Salih said.
Sabah al-Saadi, a member of parliament in the bloc led by influential anti-American Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, has proposed a bill demanding a US pullout.
Trump's latest remarks had made passing such a law "a national duty."
Hassan Karim al-Kaabi, the deputy speaker of parliament, also close to Sadr, said they were a "new provocation", weeks after the US president sparked outrage in Iraq by visiting US troops at Ain al-Asad without meeting a single Iraqi official.
Officially, Iraq says there are no American bases on its soil – only instructors deployed at Iraqi bases.
Kurdish MP Sarkawt Shams tweeted that the mission of US troops in Iraq was "to help Iraqi security forces against terrorism, not 'watching' others."
"We are expecting the United States to respect our mutual interests and avoid pushing Iraq into a regional conflict," he said.
Washington has had troops in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. At the height of its fight against terrorists, it had up to 170,000 US troops in the country, before a partial withdrawal starting in late 2011.
AFP and Reuters contributed to this story.