BAGHDAD—U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a lightning visit Tuesday, May 7, to Baghdad and met with Iraq’s prime minister and other top officials, to discuss the safety of Americans in Iraq and explain U.S. security concerns amid rising Iranian activity
Pompeo’s unannounced trip to the Iraqi capital began and ended after nightfall under heavy security, following the abrupt cancellation of a visit to Germany.
The visit came two days after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said the United States was deploying the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force to the region because of a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”
The Trump administration has made several recent moves to squeeze Iran. Last month, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would no longer exempt any countries from U.S. sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil. The United States also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group, the first time it has ever taken such a step for an entire division of another government.
“We talked to them about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it’s able to adequately protect Americans in their country,” Pompeo told reporters after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
An Iraqi government source confirmed the meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi but did not elaborate on the details.
Pompeo said the purpose of the meeting also was to let Iraqi officials know more about “the increased threat stream that we had seen” so they could effectively protect U.S. forces.
Pompeo said he expressed U.S. support for Iraqi sovereignty, noting, “We don’t want anyone interfering in their country, certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq.”
Asked before the meetings if there was a threat Iraq from Iran that raised U.S. concerns about Iraqi sovereignty, Pompeo said, “No, no, generally this has been our position since the national security strategy came out in the beginning of the Trump administration.”
Asked about the decision to move the aircraft carrier and bomber task force to the region, Pompeo said the United States wanted to defend its interests from the Iranian threat and ensure it had the forces necessary to accomplish that goal.
Iraq has a close relationship with the U.S., which is leading the international coalition in the war against the ISIS terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. More than 5,000 U.S. troops are stationed on Iraqi soil.
“The message that we’ve sent to the Iranians, I hope, puts us in a position where we can deter and the Iranians will think twice about attacking American interests,” Pompeo said, noting that the U.S. intelligence was “very specific” about “attacks that were imminent.”
He said the United States has urged Iraq to move quickly to bring Iranian-influenced independent militias under central government control, noting that they make Iraq “a less stable nation.”
Before landing in Baghdad he said that that he would make clear in his meetings that any attack by Iran or its proxies on American forces in Iraq would affect the Iraqi government too.
The “campaign to continue to prevent ISIS terror inside of Iraq itself is something that’s very central … to the Iraqi government,” Pompeo said.
Responding to a question about whether Iraq could protect U.S. interests from attacks by Iran and its proxy forces, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said Tuesday that Iraq takes its responsibilities seriously. “This is an obligation that Iraq honors,” he said.
Pompeo also said spoke to Iraqi officials about their energy and infrastructure needs, especially in the electricity, oil and natural gas sectors. He said they discussed ways to quickly move forward with projects that could help improve Iraqi lives.
By Ahmed Rasheed. Additional reporting by Eric Beech
With reporting by the Associated Press