Pompeo makes surprise Iraq visit

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Iraq Wednesday as part of his tour to reassure regional allies of the US’ commitment to security and stability in the Middle East amid a shifting Syria strategy.

Pompeo traveled first to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul al-Mahdi, President Barham Salih, Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali al-Hakim and Speaker of the Council of Representatives Mohamed al-Halbousi. He then traveled to Erbil, where he met with members of the Iraqi Kurdistan government.

In Baghdad, according to State Department readouts of his meeting with the Prime Minister and President, Pompeo spoke with leaders about how the US could support Iraqi Security Forces “to ensure ISIS’ lasting defeat.” Pompeo told the traveling press in Erbil that he had spoken to the leaders there about President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.

Despite a blistering critique from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the conditions of that withdrawal — specifically the protection of Kurdish fighters in Syria — Pompeo offered a vote of confidence.

“We’re having conversations with them even as we speak about how we will effectuate this in a way that protects our forces, make sure that the Americans as we withdraw are safe and we will complete the mission of taking down the last elements of the caliphate before we depart,” Pompeo told the traveling press before departing Erbil.

“What I said last week is that these are folks that have fought with us and that it’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected and Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that — I think he uses the language that he has no beef with the Kurds — we want to make sure that that’s the case,” he continued.

Pompeo’s visit was not previously announced by the State Department, but White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in December that Pompeo would make a stop in Iraq. It comes just weeks after Trump’s trip to the country, during which the President did not meet with Iraqi elected officials. That visit was denounced by parliament members, major Iraqi political parties and key players in the current Iraqi government.