USA secretary of state meets Iraqi leaders in unannounced visit to Baghdad

Three F-35A Lightning IIs assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron taxi after landing at Al Dhafra Air Base United Arab Emirates

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid an unscheduled visit to Iraq on Tuesday after canceling an official trip to Germany at the last minute.

Pompeo abruptly cancelled talks in Germany and made a lengthy detour from a European tour to spend four hours in Iraq, where he met both President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.

The secretary told reporters on the flight that his meetings with Iraq's president and prime minister were meant to demonstrate USA support for "a sovereign, independent" Iraq, free from the influence of neighbouring Iran. He told reporters that he was making the visit because of indications that Iranians were "escalating their activity" and intelligence about "imminent" plans for attacks.

Pompeo said he expressed USA support for Iraqi sovereignty, noting: "We don't want anyone interfering in their country, certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq". The deployment was in response to "recent and clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack USA forces", the Pentagon said.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration re-imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports in November after Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal between Tehran, Washington and five other countries.

The visit comes two days after the United States announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East to send a "clear and unmistakeable" message to Iran.

Journalists from The Associated Press and other organizations accompanying Pompeo were not told of his new destination until his plane left for Baghdad and were not allowed to report on his whereabouts until after his plane had taken off for London. "We're taking every action to deter them", he said.




The "campaign to continue to prevent ISIS terror inside of Iraq itself is something that's very central ... to the Iraqi government", Pompeo said.

Abdul Mahdi said the United States was an important strategic partner for Iraq, but stressed that Baghdad was continuing to seek a balanced relationship with all of its "friends and neighbours, including neighbouring Iran".

Greenland is an autonomous territory of Denmark, whose foreign minister, Anders Samuelsen, had also been set to meet Pompeo in Nuuk.

In Iraq, a debate has been raging in recent months over the fate of some 5,200 USA troops stationed across the country.

Germany has wide disagreements with the Trump administration and along with other European nations still supports the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under former United States president Barack Obama.

"Iraq is going to need two or three years to achieve self-sufficiency in the field, which will be possible only if big projects are implemented", Al-Khateeb said.

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