Map of Iraq: iStock

Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan made a surprise visit to the Iraqi capital on Tuesday for talks on the sensitive issue of a continued US military presence in the country after Washington withdraws from neighboring Syria.

Shanahan was keen to pacify Iraqi leaders after President Donald Trump angered many by saying he wanted to keep troops at the Al-Asad airbase, northwest of Baghdad, to keep an eye on Iran.

The acting defense secretary, who flew in from Afghanistan on his first foreign tour since taking office last month, held talks with Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and top military advisers, as well as Lieutenant General Paul LaCamera, the head of the anti-ISIS coalition forces.

His meeting with Iraq’s premier had “a very good energy,”  Shanahan told the press after arriving in Brussels, where he will be attending a NATO summit.

“I made very clear that we recognize their sovereignty, their focus on independence and that we are there at the invitation of the government,” he added.

Asked whether he had asked about the possibility of US troops in Iraq deploying across the border into Syria for operations against ISIS, Shanahan said: “It just did not come up.”

The two spoke about Iran “indirectly… in the context of Iraq’s independence,” he said, adding that Abdel Mehdi had emphasized the need for Baghdad to maintain good relations with both its neighbours and Washington.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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