US Secretary of State Pompeo makes unannounced trip to Iraq


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made an unannounced visit to Iraq.

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 US support for "a sovereign, independent" Iraq, free from the influence of neighbouring Iran.

Pompeo reportedly asked Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and President Barham Salih to ensure the safety of Americans in Iraq and reaffirmed that the U.S. would cooperate to defend the country. He told reporters that he was making the visit because of indications that Iranians were "escalating their activity" and intelligence about "imminent" plans for attacks.

"I wanted to go to Baghdad to speak with the leadership there, to assure them that we stood ready to continue to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation", Pompeo said as cited by Reuters. The deployment was in response to "recent and clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack USA forces", the Pentagon said.

On Wednesday, also known as the one-year mark of United States withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal, Washington slapped fresh sanctions on the iron, steel, aluminum and copper sectors of Iran, aiming to further deprive Tehran's export revenue.

Mr Trump's national security adviser John Bolton said the move sent "a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interest or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force".

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But in response to a question about threats from Iran or its proxies on USA forces in Iraq, the top U.S. diplomat mentioned both Iraq and Jordan.

In a press conference a few hours before Pompeo's arrival, Abdel Mahdi said Iraq would not accept any attack on foreign troops on its land. 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. More than 5,000 US troops are stationed on Iraqi soil. "This is an obligation that Iraq honours", he said.

Germany has wide disagreements with the Trump administration and along with other European nations still supports the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under former USA president Barack Obama. Among the Iraqis attending both meetings was Foreign Minister Muhammed Ali al-Hakim.

But Pompeo said that Maas was "most gracious" in a telephone call in which he told him he would scrap the visit.

In London, Pompeo will meet Prime Minister Theresa May who is grappling with a three-year political crisis over the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union.