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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 January 2019

Iraqi lawmaker: US must treat Baghdad with caution   

US Secretary of State makes surprise visit to Iraq to try an ease tensions

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, arrives in Erbil, in Iraq's Kurdish Region. AP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, arrives in Erbil, in Iraq's Kurdish Region. AP

Washington must be cautious when dealing with Iraqi officials, Jaber Al Jaberi, a lawmaker in Baghdad, told The National on Thursday.

“The US administration says that Iraq is a stable country with an elected government, but then on the other hand, senior officials suddenly show up unannounced,” Mr Al Jaberi said.

The remarks come one day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched down in Baghdad and less than two weeks after President Donald Trump was criticised for failing to meet a single Iraqi official during a surprise visit to US troops in Iraq.

Mr Al Jaberi warned these development portray the current fragile relations between Iraq and the US relations. However, he added, Mr Pompeo's visit was a positive one overall.

The Secretary of State was seemingly able to ease tensions between Baghdad and Washington after angry lawmakers called for a parliamentary debate on whether American troops should leave the country.

Fifteen years after the US invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the presence of American troops still suscitates strong opinions.

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Mr Trump was accused of being arrogant and violating Iraqi sovereignty when he landed in Baghdad unannounced. Lawmakers promised to schedule a season for debate the expulsion of US troops.

Managing foreign interference in Iraq has been a drawn-out issues among parliamentarians.

Washington’s top diplomat is currently on a tour of the Middle East, urging allies to continue to confront the "significant threats" posed by Iran and ISIS, despite Mr Trump's decision last month to pull all US troops from Syria.

Mr pompeo's visit was not previously announced by the State Department, but White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in December that he would make a stop in Iraq.

In Baghdad, Mr Pompeo met with Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, President Barham Salih, the Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Hakim and Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi. He also visited US soldiers stationed in the country.

He discussed with the prime minister the “lasting defeat throughout the region” of ISIS and American support for Iraq’s energy independence, Deputy State Department Spokesman Robert Palladino said.

President Salih told reporters after a meeting with Mr Pompeo that Baghdad wanted Washington to remain engaged.

"We will need the support of the US," Mr Salih said, expressing "gratitude to the US for support over the years".

“The visit was meant to ease tensions made by President Trump’s visit to Iraq, I think it helps toward normalising the relations between US and Iraq,” Sarkwat Shams, an Iraqi MP told The National.

However, added Mr Shams, the Trump administration aught to deal carefully with its Iraqi partners, in order to avoid clashes with Iranian aligned groups inside the country.

“We want the Trump administration to understand Iraq’s fragile position in the region. Otherwise it may lose Iraq,” he said.

Officials in Iraqi Kurdistan mirrored Mr Shams’s comments.

“I believe it will improve relations and lead to further cooperation on latest development in the region,” Janghis Awakaly, an official from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) told The National.

“The visit may help the US to reduce tensions with Baghdad and quieten the voices among some Iraqi parliamentary blocs that have pushed for the withdrawal of American troops from the country,” Mr Awakaly said.

Mr Pompeo on Wednesday also met with a number of Kurdish officials in Erbil, including senior Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) Chancellor Masrour Barzani and the prime minister of the Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani.

Mr Pompeo on Thursday left Iraq for the third leg of his tour in Egypt, where he met with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Cairo and is expected to give a speech on Mr Trump's Middle East vision.

Updated: January 10, 2019 04:04 PM

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