Acting Pentagon chief makes unannounced visit to Iraqi capital
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit as anger grows in Iraq over Washington’s continued military presence in the Arab country despite the collapse of the Takfiri Daesh terror group there.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Shanahan said that his trip came at the invitation of the Iraqi government, adding, “Our interests are to build Iraqi security capability.”
“I want to hear first-hand from them about concerns, the political dynamics that they are facing and then based on that we will obviously factor that into our planning,” he pointed out.
The Pentagon chief will sit down with Iraqi officials such as Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and exchange views with US commanders about the Syria withdrawal.
Asked about the possibility of moving American forces in Syria to Iraq, Shanahan said that he would hold conversations on the issue during his visit.
Last December, US President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw all 2,000 American forces from Syria and withdraw up to half of the roughly 14,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, however, Trump said that he wants to keep US troops in Iraq in order to keep a close eye on Iran. “All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up,” he said.
The remarks sparked angry reactions from Iraqi officials.
Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said that his country rejects serving as a launching pad to harm any other state.
Both Iraqi President Barham Salih and premier Abdul-Mahdi hit back at Trump’s comments.
Shanahan replaced Jim Mattis, who resigned last December over policy disagreements with Trump, including whether to pull US troops out of Syria.