Pompeo Makes Unscheduled Visit To Baghdad Amid Rising Tensions With Iran

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Tuesday and met 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.

On the way to Baghdad on Tuesday, Pompeo told reporters he would meet with Iraq's president and prime minister to show them what he said is U.S. support for "a sovereign, independent" Iraq, free from the influence of neighboring Iran, AP reported.

Pompeo would not be specific about the more recent threat information involving Iran except that they involved "imminent" plans for attacks.

He refused to give further details, but U.S. media reports say Iran has likely moved short-range ballistic missiles to ships in the Persian Gulf that could target United States troops and those of USA allies.

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The secretary told reporters on the flight that his meetings with Iraq's president and prime minister were meant to demonstrate USA support for "a sovereign, independent" Iraq, free from the influence of neighbouring Iran.

The visit came days after a United States aircraft carrier was deployed to the region, which officials said was in response to threats to U.S. forces and its allies from Iran.

As tensions rise between Washington and Tehran, Baghdad in some ways is caught in the middle.

The "campaign to continue to prevent ISIS terror inside of Iraq itself is something that's very central.to the Iraqi government", Pompeo said. "In each of those meetings, those two leaders promised that that was their objective, too, they were moving towards that goal", he said.

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Abdul Mahdi said the United States was an important strategic partner for Iraq, but stressed that Baghdad was continuing to seek a balanced relationship with all of its "friends and neighbours, including neighbouring Iran". Their presence angers the Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force that is dominated by pro-Iran factions which played a key role alongside government forces in the fight against IS.

Pompeo also said he wanted to underscore Iraq's need to protect Americans in their country.

Trump withdrew from the Obama administration's landmark nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 and, in the months that followed, reinstated punishing sanctions, including those targeting Iran's oil, shipping and banking sectors. "Iraq really is taking the responsibility to avoid any attack on any of our friends here, coalition forces or any of our friends here", he told reporters. Iranian media have said that Rouhani will announce retaliatory measures on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of Trump's pullout from a 2015 nuclear accord under which Tehran drastically scaled back its sensitive work. "This is an obligation that Iraq would honour, (and) not accept any attack on anyone whether Iraqi, foreigner, whether it's an embassy or a company or a military mission", he said. Among the Iraqis attending both meetings was Foreign Minister Muhammed Ali al-Hakim.

Pompeo arrived in Britain on Wednesday, where he will hold talks with Prime Minister Theresa May and other officials.

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