Santa didn’t visit U.S. troops in Baghdad this Christmas, but Donald Trump did, in a surprise presidential stopover that Iraqi lawmakers denounced as a violation of their country’s sovereignty, Reuters reported.
Accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton, the president made the unannounced trip Wednesday to the Ain al-Asad Air Base, near the Iraqi capital, to thank military members for their service, the White House said — a move criticized by parliamentary groups in Baghdad.
“Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” read a statement from the Bina parliamentary bloc, led by militia leader Hadi al-Amiri.
Bina’s rivals, the Islah bloc, also condemned the trip, calling it a “blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” adding that Trump “should know his limits: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is over.” The parties even called for a special session to discuss evicting U.S. forces from the country.
The office of Iraq’s prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, told Reuters they’d been forewarned about the visit shortly before, but a face-to-face between the leaders was cancelled because Trump wanted to meet at the U.S. military base and Abdul-Mahdi did not.
"I got you a big one"
Trump’s trip was his first visit to a combat zone since taking office, and he told the troops he wanted to personally thank them for defeating the Islamic State group.
"Two years ago when I became president, they were a very dominant group; today they're not so dominant any more,” he said. “Great job."
After signing autographs and posing for selfies, Trump claimed he had personally secured the troops a “10 percent” wage boost after a decade without an increase.
“Is anybody here willing to give up the big pay raise you just got?” he asked. “You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years. More than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one.”
According to the Department of Defense, U.S. military personnel have received a pay raise in each of the last 10 years — and a bill signed by the president in August will give them a 2.6 percent increase -- not 10 percent — in 2019.
NO IRAQ WITHDRAWAL
The trip came just days after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. The president said he would not pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, where some 5,000 Americans are currently deployed, and defended his decision on Syria.
“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds,” he said.
"Eight years ago, we went there for three months and we never left. Now, we're doing it right and we're going to finish it off."
He said Turkey had promised to destroy the Islamic State in Syria, and that the U.S. would no longer be “the policeman of the world."
"It's not fair when the burden is all on us, the United States," Trump said. "We're no longer the suckers, folks. We're respected again as a nation."
Cover: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose for a photograph as they visit members of the military at a dining hall at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. In a surprise trip to Iraq, President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria where they have been helping battle Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)