US Secretary of Defense arrives in Iraq on unannounced visit

Jim Mattis, on his first trip to Iraq as defense secretary, said he plans to assess the fight against Islamic State in the country and that the USA isn't there to take its oil.

Mattis' visit to Iraq is the first of its kind since his appointment one month ago by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Questions about Trump's intentions for Iraq and the country's oil have abounded since the president commented on America's approach to the country after taking down Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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Mattis has emerged as a vital statesman for the Trump administration and has spent the past week in Europe and the Gulf on a mission to reassure allies that America is not about to abandon old military alliances. Mr Trump had told Central Intelligence Agency staff in a January speech: "We should have kept the oil. Maybe we'll have another chance", he told an audience of agents.

Mattis' arrived on an unannounced visit in Iraq as the battle to oust Islamic State militants from western Mosul moved into its second day, and as the Pentagon considers ways to accelerate the campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria.

President Trump repeatedly criticized the Iraq war in his presidential campaign, and also spoke of how the USA should have taken control over that country's oil.

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Mattis is finalizing plans at Trump's request to accelerate the defeat of the Islamic State and is expected to meet senior U.S. and Iraqi officials while in Iraq.

"We're going to make certain that we've got good situational awareness of what we face as we work together and fight alongside each other", he said. But no, the press, as far as I'm concerned, are a constituency that we deal with.

Lieutenant General Jeff Harrigian, the top Air Force commander in the Middle East, told AP that United States troops responsible for calling in airstrikes are now closer to the battle and are able to advance with Iraqi units.

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There are more than 5,100 US forces in Iraq, and up to about 500 in Syria.


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