US secretary of state Mike Pompeo makes unannounced stop in Iraq during Middle East tour

Diplomat touring American allies amid confusion over Donald Trump's plans to withdraw US troops from Syria

Samuel Osborne
Wednesday 09 January 2019 13:22
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US secretary of state Mike Pompeo sits with PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi amid unannounced stop in Iraq during Middle East tour

Mike Pompeo has arrived in Baghdad on a previously unannounced visit to Iraq, meeting American troops and Iraqi leaders as part of a wider tour of the Middle East.

America's top diplomat is touring allies in the region amid confusion over conflicting statements by Donald Trump and senior US officials about plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.

The secretary of state met with Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, president Barham Salih, foreign minister Mohamed Alhakim and parliament speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi on Wednesday.

When asked earlier about the possibility of a visit by Mr Pompeo, Mr Abdul Mahdi said any meeting would involve a discussion of how to deepen Iraq’s relationship with the US-led coalition fighting Isis.

“He’s an ally, he represents a friendly country,” Mr Abdul Mahdi said. “We will raise those issues, and how to deal with regional issues altogether and deepen our economic and educational relations with the United States.”

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo talks with Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad

Mr Trump sowed confusion during an unannounced visit to Iraq on 26 December, when he said he would pull all 2,000 US troops from Syria, which caused alarm among US allies in the region.

The US president met with troops stationed at the Al Asad Air Base outside Iraq on 26 December, but did not meet with any Iraqi officials during the visit, which infuriated local politicians.

He did not say whether he also intends to withdraw American forces from Iraq, where 5,200 US troops are stationed, but suggested his military could use its bases in Iraq as a platform for continued operations in Syria.

President Donald Trump speaks to U.S. troops in Iraq

Mr Pompeo said the fight to defeat Isis and Iran remained the most pressing issues in the region during a news conference in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday.

His visit occurred against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, as the US seeks to combat Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

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 have said there was no evidence Iran was violating the deal.

Iran’s supreme leader called US officials “first-class idiots” on Wednesday in a series of unusually harsh comments.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also recounted a story about a US official who once predicted he would celebrate Christmas in Iran.

“Some US officials pretend that they are mad. Of course I don’t agree with that, but they are first-class idiots,” he said.

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Mr Pompeo was expected in Cairo, Egypt, later on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by agencies

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