WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced stop in Iraq on Wednesday, meeting with the country’s president, prime minister and legislative leader.
Pompeo’s visit to Iraq was part of a swing across the Middle East aimed at reassuring American allies in the region after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
Trump’s Syria decision sparked concern in Israel and elsewhere about U.S. commitment to the region, including its efforts to curb Iran’s influence and defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The president visited American troops in Iraq last month, but Iraqi officials were irked that Trump did not meet with Iraq’s prime minister, as his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush did.
Pompeo traveled to Erbil on Wednesday for a second surprise meeting with top officials in the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government. During the stop in Erbil, Pompeo said he and Iraqi leaders discussed Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria, but he did not elaborate.
Pompeo said the United States is committed to protecting Syrian Kurds, who helped fight ISIS in that country. He gave no details of how the administration would accomplish that. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who views the Kurds as terrorists, vowed to attack them once U.S. forces withdraw from Syria.
“It’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected,” Pompeo said. “Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that.”
Erdogan flatly rebuffed a plea from Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, not to harm the Kurds. “We cannot make any concessions,” Erdogan said Tuesday after Bolton met with Turkish officials.
Pompeo and Bolton have met with top American allies across the Middle East in an effort to blunt the fallout from Trump’s recent actions and statements, including an assertion that Iran can “do whatever they want” in Syria.
The United States accused Iran of meddling in Iraq and trying to destabilize the government by financing and training militia groups that sow sectarian violence.
Pompeo didn’t answer a reporter’s question on whether the United States was committed to keeping troops in the country. Iraqi President Barham Salih said he wanted the United States to maintain its military presence in the country. About 5,200 U.S. troops are stationed there.
“We will need the support of the U.S.” Salih said. He said ISIS is defeated militarily, “but mission is not accomplished.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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