(Reuters) – Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday for an unannounced visit during which he said he would stress the importance of Iraqi sovereignty and broach the issue of the future of U.S. troops there.
President Donald Trump said this month that a U.S. presence was needed to observe Iran, which would overstep the U.S.-led coalition’s stated mission in Iraq and Syria of defeating Islamic State.
“We are in Iraq at the invitation of the government and our interests are to build Iraqi security capability,” Shanahan told reporters traveling with him on his first trip to Iraq.
“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.”
Shanahan is to meet leaders including Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and will also discuss the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria with U.S. commanders.
Trump caused anger in Baghdad this month when he said it was important to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq so that Washington could keep a close eye on Iran “because Iran is a real problem.”
During a trip to Iraq in December, in which he did not meet any Iraqi leaders, Trump said the United States had spent a “fortune” on the Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq and should hold on to it.
He had earlier announced he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, a decision that stunned allies and in part led to the resignation of former defense secretary James Mattis.
The U.S. military has already started withdrawing equipment from Syria.