Dozens of U.S. diplomats and embassy staff who will shepherd Secretary of State Michael Pompeo through a tour of the Middle East over the next week will be laboring without pay as the partial government shutdown drags on.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Wednesday, which appeared partly aimed at patching up relations strained during Donald Trump’s surprise visit last month.
The U.S. president upset Iraqi lawmakers when he visited troops at the Ain Al-Asad base west of Baghdad but didn’t meet with the country’s new prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, though the two leaders did speak by phone.
Pompeo met with Abdul-Mahdi as well as Iraq’s foreign minister, parliament speaker and President Barham Salih, who said his country still needs U.S. support in the fight against Islamic State militants.
Most American forces were withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, after years of political squabbling following the U.S. invasion in 2003. But thousands returned to help the Baghdad government fight Islamic State, after the jihadist group seized swaths of the country in 2013 and 2014.
The U.S. has about 5,000 troops in Iraq, and Trump said on his visit he had no intention to bring them home as he’s signaled he’ll do with the 2,000 American soldiers in Syria. Trump, who drew bipartisan criticism over his abruptly announced plan to quit Syria, said U.S. forces would be able to use Iraq as a base for regional operations against adversaries.
But in Iraq, where America and Iran have long competed for political influence, support for the idea was not clear cut. Trump’s surprise visit so infuriated some Iraqi lawmakers that they called for a review of the U.S. military presence in the country. Others called it a breach of diplomatic norms at the very least.
Answering a question on whether he wants U.S. troops to stay, Salih said: “We will need the support of the U.S.” Islamic State, he added, was “defeated militarily but mission is not accomplished.”
Pompeo’s visit to Iraq is part of a weeklong Middle East tour that began in Jordan and is expected to continue with stops in countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait.
The trip follows National Security Adviser John Bolton’s trip to Turkey earlier this week, where he was snubbed and then publicly criticized by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the shifting U.S. conditions for a withdrawal from Syria.
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