Iraq's outgoing prime minister said Wednesday it was up to the next government to see through parliament's decision to oust US troops.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's comments came ahead of planned protests against the American military presence in Iraq called for by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Abdul Mahdi's government is in caretaker status following his resignation in December under pressure from mass demonstrations.
“I request that the president, parliament and political parties nominate a new prime minister, a new government that has full authority because these difficult, complicated circumstances, especially with pulling of the troops ... that needs a government with full authority so it can go forward,” he said in comments aired Wednesday from a cabinet session the previous day.
The United States killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in an air strike in Baghdad on January 3. The strike prompted Iraq's parliament to pass a non-binding resolution requesting the government end the presence of American troops in the country.
Abdul Mahdi has stood by the resolution despite signs of de-escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran. Iran retaliated for the killing by hitting two military bases hosting US troops but did not cause casualties.
Washington has responded to Iraq's requests to initiate troop withdrawals with blunt refusal.
Last week, Abdul Mahdi asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to work out a roadmap for an American troop withdrawal, but Washington responded saying the two sides should instead discuss how to “recommit” to their partnership.
Abdul Mahdi's recent remarks suggest he is keen on maintaining good relations with Washington yet firm that US troops must leave.
“I am determined to keep our friendships with all. They all helped us, they all scarified for us, some with blood, some with financial aid in fighting (the ISIS group)," he said.
“We also respect the parliament's decision and we are working on implementing it in the right manner that guarantees Iraq's sovereignty.”
Meanwhile, followers of al-Sadr acted on his call for “millions” to take to the streets to demonstrate against the American troop presence by announcing planned protests to take place next week, according to a statement circulating on social media verified by two activists. The protests are expected to take place on January 24, according to the statement.
The cleric, who also leads the Sairoon bloc in parliament, derives much of his political capital through grassroots mobilization.
Activists in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of a four-month anti-government protest movement, said they feared the demonstrations would spark clashes.
“We are afraid that he will decide to start the protests in Tahrir,” said Mustafa, an activist who gave only his first name fearing reprisals.
“In this case there would be big issues with the Tahrir demonstrators,” he told The Associated Press.