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Iraq promised to protect US interests, Pompeo says during Baghdad trip

Pompeo landed in Baghdad on an unannounced visit [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 May, 2019

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iraq had promised to protect his country's interest, during a surprise visit to Baghdad.

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Iraq, Iran, Pompeo,

Iraqi leaders promised to ensure the safety of US interests, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a surprise visit to Baghdad, amid rising US tensions with Iran.

Pompeo cancelled talks in Germany to make the four-hour trip to Baghdad - which has close ties with Iran - where he met both President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.

"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 the meetings.

"They both provided assurances that they understood that was their responsibility," he said.

Pompeo said he made the trip to Iraq because Iran "is escalating their activity," although he declined to discuss intelligence in detail.

"We wanted to let them know about the increased threat stream that we had seen and give them a little bit more background on that so they could ensure that they were doing all they could to provide protection for our team," Pompeo said.

The trip came two days after the United States warned Iran that it would respond with "unrelenting force" to any attack and said the deployment to the region of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group was meant to send a "clear and unmistakable message" to Tehran.

National Security Advisor John Bolton said the deployment was in response to a "number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings," but did not elaborate.

"The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces," he said. 

Prior to the trip, Pompeo said his position as Secretary of State means he has "a responsibility to keep the officers that work for me safe each and every day all around the world. That includes in Erbil and Baghdad, in our facilities in Amman, all around the Middle East."  

"And so any time we receive threat reporting, things that raise concerns, we do everything... that we can to make sure that those planned or contemplated attacks don't take place, and to make sure that we've got the right security posture," he said. 

The US move comes in response to intelligence about a threat orchestrated by Iran, officials said, but details of the threat have not been disclosed.

Navy Captain Bill Urban, the spokesman for the US military's Central Command, which spans the Middle east, said the threat could be land-based or maritime.

Pompeo had been traveling from Finland, where he had attended a meeting of the Arctic Council. 

He was due to meet both Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas later Tuesday in Germany.

The tensions come a year after President Donald Trump exited a nuclear deal with Iran and instead launched an aggressive campaign to counter the clerical regime.

Critics both in the United States and abroad say that Trump has sought to ratchet up tensions in hopes of a crisis with Iran, which UN inspectors say is still abiding by the nuclear accord.

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