Interim Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan visits Iraq; NATO next

Feb. 12 (UPI) — A day after he showed up in Afghanistan unannounced, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan turned up in Iraq Tuesday without notice.

The Middle East tour follows remarks by President Donald Trump last week that said he would keep U.S. forces in Iraq to watch Iran. The United States has about 5,200 troops in Iraq to advise and train security forces.

“What’s important to remind everyone … or maybe just to reiterate is that we are in Iraq at the invitation of the government, and our interests are to build Iraqi security capability,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “I wanted to hear firsthand from them about their concerns, the political dynamics that they’re facing and then, based on that, we’ll obviously factor that into our planning.”

Trump’s remarks about Iraq have drawn some criticism in the Persian Gulf region. Iraqi President Barham Salih later said he was never informed of Trump’s plan.

“Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” Salih said. “The U.S. is a major power … but we do not pursue your own policy priorities. We live here.”

Iraqi political leaders say it’s a violation of the constitution to use Iraq as a base of operations for attacking another. Shanahan took over at the Pentagon on an interim basis in December after James Mathis resigned over Trump’s decision to withdraw all forces from Syria.

The Islamic State still maintains territory in Syria east of the Euphrates River, on the Iraq border. U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched their “final battle to eliminate” Islamic State terrorists last weekend.

Next, Shanahan will travel to Belgium where he will meet with NATO defense ministers.

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