Jan. 9 (UPI) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Iraq, where he met with the country’s new leaders and discussed the U.S. presence in neighboring Syria.
Pompeo met with Iraqi Prime Minister Abil Abd al-Mahdi to discuss the continued operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Pompeo is seeking continued cooperation with Iraqi Security Forces in the fight against terrorists.
“Great to meet the new Iraqi government and congratulate @AbilAbdAlMahdi, @BarhamSalih, AlHalbooosii and @maalhakim in person and reinforcing our bilateral ties. Look forwawrd to working together on key regional issues and to supporting Iraq’s energy independence,” Pompeo tweeted.
The visit comes a few weeks after President Donald Trump visited U.S. troops in the region the day after Christmas.
Trump announced last month that U.S. troops will be withdrawing from Syria “now.” He tempered that position after national security adviser John Bolton said the Islamic State isn’t fully defeated in Syria. The United States also wants assurances that Kurdish fighters in Syria will be protected from Turkey, which considers the Kurdish militia members terrorists.
“The Secretary also discussed the recent territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria and the continuation of our cooperation with Iraqi Security Forces to ensure ISIS’ lasting defeat throughout the region,” State Department Deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said.
Bolton was scheduled to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week but Erdogan canceled it at the last minute. Last month, Erdogan said he wants to “wipe out” the Kurdish People’s Protection Units east of the Euphrates River in Syria. The organization, consisting of ethnic Kurds, remains one of the biggest allies for the United States in Syria.
There’s growing concern that U.S. troop withdrawal would leave the Kurds vulnerable.
Pompeo’s jaunt through the Middle East will continue next with a stop in Egypt.