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Acting Pentagon chief makes surprise Baghdad visit

BAGHDAD: Acting Pentagon leader Patrick Shanahan made an unannounced talk over with to the Iraqi capital on Tuesday for talks at the sensitive factor of a persevered US troop presence after Washington withdraws from neighbouring Syria.

Shanahan is raring to reassure Iraqi leaders after President Donald Trump angered many by way of announcing he wanted to care for some troops at the Al-Asad airbase, northwest of Baghdad, to keep watch over Iran.

The acting defence secretary, who flew in from Afghanistan on his foreign excursion since taking place of business last month, was because of hang talks with Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and best army advisers, in addition to Lieutenant General Paul LaCamera, the commander of anti-IS coalition forces.

"Our main partnership and military activity in Iraq is the de-ISIS (IS) mission," a senior Pentagon respectable instructed newshounds travelling with Shanahan, maintaining the focus at the combat in opposition to Islamic State jihadists.

Washington was additionally pressing its allies to repatriate their nationals captured and taken prisoner after preventing fought for IS in Iraq and Syria, the respectable mentioned.

"We think coalition members need to take responsibility for their citizens who are fighters. It's been a message we've delivered time and time again. And we are seeing hopeful progress," he mentioned.

Trump's comments about Iran, in an interview with CBS television aired on February three, drew a stern rebuff from President Barham Saleh, who mentioned using Iraq as a base in opposition to a 3rd nation violated its charter.

They additionally sparked renewed calls for a US withdrawal each from pro-Iran factions throughout the government and from Iran-trained armed groups whose power has risen sharply during the fightback in opposition to the Islamic State team that culminated in December 2017.

Those calls are likely to intensify as Washington carries out the total troop withdrawal from Syria unveiled in a shock announcement by way of Trump in December.

The plan, judged hasty by way of each US allies and senior figures within Trump's own administration, prompted the resignation of Shanahan's predecessor, Jim Mattis.

But with US-backed Kurdish-led opponents poised to overrun the Islamic State team's last tiny enclave in eastern Syria, most likely as early as this week, the withdrawal, which different administration figures had controlled to gradual, is now likely to acquire pace.

Trump's comments concerning the al-Asad airbase got here after the US president had already angered Iraqi leaders in December by way of paying a Christmas talk over with to US troops primarily based there without travelling to Baghdad to speak with them.

"We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it," Trump mentioned in the CBS interview.

"One of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem," he added.

A draft law that may set a timetable for a US troop withdrawal is now before the Iraqi parliament.

It is backed by way of both of Iraq's maximum robust political groupings, the nationalist alliance led by way of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, and the pro-Iran movement of former anti-IS opponents.

At an extraordinary joint information conference on Monday, the two groupings demanded at the very least a "new agreement" setting tight conditions on any future foreign troop presence.

Following the US-led invasion that overthrew since-executed dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, US troop numbers peaked at some 170,000 before a complete withdrawal was completed in 2011.

Troops returned to Iraq in 2014 as part of a world coalition set as much as combat IS after it swept thru much of the north and west in addition to swathes of neighbouring Syria that yr.

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