The Latest: Iraqi militia head calls for expelling US forces

AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump’s trip to Iraq (all times local):

1:30 a.m.

The head of a powerful Iraqi militia that enjoys backing from Iran is threatening to expel U.S. forces from Iraq after an unannounced visit by President Donald Trump to American troops stationed in the country.

Qais Khazali, the head of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, promised on Twitter that Iraq’s parliament would vote to expel U.S. forces from Iraq, or the militia and others would force them out by “other means.”

Trump spent three hours at a U.S. air base in western Iraq with troops. He did not meet with any Iraqi officials.

Khazali is an avowed opponent of the U.S. who rose to prominence as a leader in the Shiite insurgency against the U.S. occupation. He was detained by British and U.S. forces in Iraq from 2007 to 2010.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq is represented in Iraq’s parliament by the Binaa bloc, one of the two rival coalitions which together control nearly all the seats in the lawmaking body.


12:55 a.m.

The office of Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, is not saying whether he has accepted President Donald Trump’s invitation to visit Washington.

The two spoke by phone on Wednesday evening during Trump’s unscheduled trip to visit American troops stationed at an air base in western Iraq. The president left approximately 3 hours later without meeting any Iraqi officials.

Abdul-Mahdi’s office said in a statement that “differences in points of view over the arrangements” prevented the two from meeting face-to-face, but they discussed security issues and Trump’s order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria over the phone.

The White House said security concerns and the short notice of the trip prevented them from meeting.

The prime minister’s office says the Iraqi leader invited the president to visit Baghdad, and Trump invited Abdel-Mahdi to Washington. But it did not say whether Abdel-Mahdi accepted the invitation, even though White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier than he did.


12:15 a.m.

The head of one of two main blocs in Iraq’s Parliament is denouncing President Donald Trump’s unannounced visit, calling it a “blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

Sabah al-Saidi says he is calling for an emergency session of Parliament to discuss Trump’s visit Wednesday evening.

Al-Saidi, who heads the Islah bloc, said “the American occupation of Iraq is over.” He said Trump should not be allowed to arrive “as if Iraq is a state of the United States.”

Iraq’s government has close military and diplomatic ties with Washington, though few parties want to be seen as overly close to the U.S. The Islah bloc is considered closer to the U.S. than the rival Binaa bloc, which espouses close ties with Iran.


12 a.m.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says President Donald Trump was unable to meet with the Iraqi prime minister because of security concerns and the short notice of the president’s trip to Iraq.

She says Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has accepted Trump’s invitation for him to visit the White House next year.

On Trump’s meeting with senior military leaders, Sanders said: “The generals and President Trump came up with a powerful plan that will allow us to continue our path to total victory. People will see results in a short period time.”

Asked whether “total victory” referred to the Islamic State group, she said “it certainly has to do with that.”


11:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump spent around three and a half hours on the ground in Iraq on his first visit to a troubled region.

In a speech to troops at a base in western Iraq, Trump defended his decision to withdraw forces from neighboring Syria. That decision prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who did not travel with Trump and was working in his Pentagon office on Wednesday.

First lady Melania Trump was on the trip. So was his national security adviser, John Bolton. No other top officials or members of Congress were along.

Trump met with U.S. diplomats and senior military leaders and wished troops a happy holiday.

In his speech, he said the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria could return home because of military gains against the Islamic State group.

The U.S. still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting the government as it continues the fight against remaining pockets of resistance by IS militants. IS has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.


11 p.m.

President Donald Trump says security concerns forced him to scrap an earlier trip to visit U.S troops in the Middle East.

Trump was speaking Wednesday to reporters who traveled with him to Iraq, his first trip to visit troops stationed in a troubled region.

Trump told reporters he had planned to make the trip three or four weeks ago, but word of the trip started getting out and forced him to postpone it.

The president called it “pretty sad” that after all the U.S. has spent in the Middle East, his trip still had to be a surprise for safety’s sake.


10:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump is defending his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria where they have been helping battle militants from the Islamic State group.

While visiting troops in western Iraq on Wednesday, Trump said that because of the military’s gains against the militant group, U.S. forces can return home to their families.

Trump spoke at al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq to American servicemen and women wearing fatigues. It was a little chilly and several wore knit hats.

Trump said the U.S. mission in Syria was to strip IS of its military strongholds — not to be a nation-builder. He says that’s a job that should be shouldered by other rich nations.

The president said the U.S. presence in Syria was never to be “open-ended,” and that Turkey has agreed to eliminate remnants of IS still remaining in the country.


10:30 p.m.

Making his first visit to a troubled region, President Donald Trump says he was more concerned for the people accompanying him to Iraq than he was for himself.

Trump says he was concerned about the institution of the presidency and first lady Melania Trump, who flew with him to an airbase just west of Baghdad.

Trump made the 11-hour flight on a darkened Air Force One with lights off and window shades drawn plus military jet escorts.

He says he’s never seen anything like it.


10:25 p.m.

President Donald Trump, who is visiting Iraq, says he has “no plans at all” to remove U.S. troops from the country.

Trump is making his first presidential trip to a troubled region in the wake of his recent decision to pull U.S. forces from neighboring Syria.

He says he wants to get U.S. soldiers home from Syria and that Iraq can still be used as a base to stage attacks on Islamic State militants if needed.

Trump told reporters traveling with him that if needed, the U.S. can attack IS “so fast and so hard” that they “won’t know what the hell happened.”

The president’s decision to exit Syria stunned national security advisers and allies, including Iraq, and prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.


10:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump is making an unannounced visit to Iraq — his first visit with U.S. troops in a troubled region.

Trump landed at an airbase west of Baghdad after dark Wednesday, leaving behind a government shutdown and other upheaval at home. The trip also comes after Trump announced that he was pulling U.S. forces out of neighboring Syria.

Trump, who begins his third year in office next month, had faced criticism for not visiting U.S. troops stationed in harm’s way. He told The Associated Press in October that he didn’t think such a visit was “overly necessary.”

He left Washington amid immense turmoil in the U.S.

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