On Mideast trip, Pompeo makes unannounced Iraq stop
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On Mideast trip, Pompeo makes unannounced Iraq stop

US secretary of state meets with Baghdad parliament officials, in contrast to visit last month by Trump, who didn’t meet any at all

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and his wife Susan disembark from their aircraft as they arrive in Amman, Jordan at the start of a Middle East tour, January 8, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and his wife Susan disembark from their aircraft as they arrive in Amman, Jordan at the start of a Middle East tour, January 8, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Iraqi officials, including the speaker, on an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Wednesday, a statement from the Baghdad parliament said.

The US State Department did not immediately confirm Pompeo was in Baghdad and had no comment about media reports of his visit.

Pompeo’s talks, on the second leg of a key Middle East tour, come less than two weeks after US President Donald Trump drew criticism for failing to meet a single Iraqi official during a surprise Christmas visit to US troops.

The top US diplomat flew in from Amman and was also due to visit Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat and Kuwait City on his longest trip since taking office last year.

Politico reported Monday that Pompeo may also visit Israel and Iraq, although last week the State Department said Jerusalem was not on his schedule.

The trip comes amid confusion over conflicting statements by Trump and senior US officials about a planned US troop withdrawal from Syria, where Iran is backing President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war.

In Jordan on Tuesday, Pompeo said the pullout would not detract from US efforts to marginalize Iran. The White House reinstated sanctions against Iran last year for allegedly violating the 2015 nuclear deal championed by former president Barack Obama. International nuclear inspectors had said there was no evidence that Iran was violating the deal.

Pompeo’s visit is the third high-profile visit by an American official to Iraq in the last month. Iraqi politicians were incensed when Trump last month made an unscheduled visit to a US base in western Iraq without also meeting Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, as his predecessors Obama and George W. Bush had done.

US President Donald Trump speaks to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Trump said on his December 26 visit that the United States could use its bases in Iraq as a platform for continued operations against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The visit left lawmakers smarting and prompted calls to annul the 2014 agreement that brought US forces back to Iraq.

Some 5,200 US troops are now stationed in the country.

Earlier in December, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Iraq to sever its energy dependence on Iran and open its energy sector to American investment. He was in Baghdad with a trade delegation arranged by the US Chamber of Commerce.

Pompeo is expected in Cairo later on Wednesday.

Trump used his December visit — his first to US troops in a conflict zone since being elected — to defend the withdrawal from Syria and declare an end to America’s role as the global “policeman.”

Trump caused a political storm when he announced the pullout, insisting the battle against the Islamic State group had been won, despite continued deadly fighting between US-backed forces and the jihadists for their last bastion in eastern Syria.

Trump has since rowed back, vowing the withdrawal would be done in a “prudent” way, and members of his administration have gone further, saying that the timeline of the pullout remains dependent on events on the ground.

Iraq declared victory over IS in December 2017 but the jihadists retain a network of sleeper cells in major cities and continue to conduct hit-and-run attacks from mountain or desert hideouts.

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