Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Spain's King Felipe VI meets anti-ISIS coalition troops during visit to Iraq

Marks the first trip by a Spanish monarch in four decades

King Felipe VI of Spain arrived in Iraq for a surprise visit in what marks the first trip for a Spanish monarch in 40 years to the war-torn country.

Casa Real, the Spanish Royal Household, announced on Wednesday morning that King Felipe landed in Baghdad early on Tuesday where he was greeted by the Spanish Ambassador to Iraq Juan Jose Escobar Stemman.

The king, whose country is a part of an international coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq, held talks with the commander of the coalition and showed his gratitude for their efforts.

“Thank you for what you do and for how you do it, you’re a source of pride for all Spaniards,” King Felipe told Spanish troops.

Although Iraq declared victory over the insurgents in December 2017 with help from the coalition, the terror group continues to carry out sporadic attacks.

Hundreds of Spanish military experts currently reside in Iraq.

King Felipe also met with Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace.

He was accompanied by the Spanish Minister of Defence Margarita Robles Fernandez and Ambassador Stemman.

The king celebrated his 51st birthday on Wednesday.

This is the first time King Felipe had visited Iraq, but it is not the first time he visited Spanish troops in the region.

In 2015, he traveled to Lebanon to meet troops stationed there.

King Felipe's visit comes after a series of world leaders landed in Baghdad since the start of the new year, including US President Donald Trump. His unannounced trip drew criticism for his failure to meet Iraqi leaders.

It pushed Iraqi lawmakers to call for the withdrawal of all US and foreign troops from the country. Mr Trump's trip was followed by a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ease the tensions.

Shortly after Mr Pompeo's visit, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif touched down in Baghdad for a five-day trip around the country.

During his visit Mr Zarif announced that President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to visit Iraq next month, marking the first public trip by Tehran’s top official.

Iraq has engaged in a careful balancing act to maintain ties with both Iran and the US as tensions between the two escalate.

King Abdullah of Jordan and French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian also arrived in Baghdad this month for talks with top officials.

Updated: January 30, 2019 01:53 PM

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