Acting US Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday February 12th, on an unannounced visit for talks on the thorny issue of a continued troop presence following withdrawal from neighbouring Syria, Reuters has reported.
Shanahan, who flew in from Afghanistan on his first foreign tour since taking office last month, is due to hold talks with Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and top military advisers and commanders. On his first trip to Iraq, he said he would stress the importance of Iraqi sovereignty after President Donald Trump said this month that a US presence was needed to observe Iran "because Iran is a real problem."
"We are in Iraq at the invitation of the government and our interests are to build Iraqi security capability," Shanahan told reporters.
"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."
Iraq is in a difficult position as tensions escalate between its two biggest allies, the United States and Iran.
Trump's comments prompted almost universal criticism from Iraq's leaders including Abdul Mahdi and raised questions about the long-term presence of some 5,200 US troops in the country 16 years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.