Mike Pence meets Kurdish leader in Iraq during surprise Thanksgiving visit to US troops

Vice-president claim’s Donald Trump’s commitment to allies in region is ‘unchanging’

Peter Stubley
Saturday 23 November 2019 17:56
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Mike Pence meets Iraqi Kurdistan President Barzani and makes unannounced Thanksgiving visit to US troops

Mike Pence attempted to reassure the Iraqi Kurds of US support during a surprise visit to the region in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

The vice-president rejected criticism that Washington had betrayed its Kurdish allies as he met with Nechirvan Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region in Iraq.

Mr Pence told the Kurdish leader at the start of the meeting in Erbil airport that he wanted to reaffirm “the strong bonds forged in the fires of war between the people of the United States and the Kurdish people across this region”.

In response, Mr Barzani thanked Mr Pence for the US military support in the fight against the Islamic State group, adding that his “visit at this particular time is an important indication of your continued support to Kurdistan and Iraq.”

The abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 US troops prompted Turkey to launch an offensive into the Kurdish-occupied areas along the northern border. In response, Syria’s Kurds sought protection by inviting Syrian government and Russian forces into the region, and last month Turkey reached separate agreements with US and Russia to allow Kurdish fighters to leave the proposed “safe zone”.

Asked whether he had to smooth over any sense of betrayal from the Kurds, Pence replied: “I don’t think there was any confusion among the leadership here... that President Trump’s commitment to our allies here in Iraq as well as to those in the Syrian defence forces, the Kurdish forces who fought along side us, is unchanging.”

Mr Pence also held a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to discuss the public protests triggered by government corruption, soaring unemployment and substandard public services.

At least 319 people have been killed and 15,000 have been injured since the mass demonstrations began in early October and the US has warned it would impose sanctions on any corrupt Iraqi officials and those responsible for the deaths of peaceful protesters.

Mr Pence said the Iraqi leader had assured him they were “working to avoid violence or the kind of oppression we see taking place even as we speak in Iran.”

“He pledged to me that they would work to protect and respect peaceful protesters as ... part of the democratic process here in Iraq,” the vice-president added.

​Mr Pence’s visit, which was unannounced for security reasons, began with the vice-president’s arrival on a C-17 military cargo place at Al Asad Air Base northwest of Baghdad.

He and his wife Karen served a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cranberry sauce and other fixings to around 700 US troops, ahead of the national holiday on Thursday.

“Happy Thanksgiving from Iraq,” he tweeted. “Second Lady and I are so honoured to be with our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines here in Iraq! We are so proud of you and thankful for you all!”

Mr Trump made a surprise visit to the same base last year.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press

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