Pompeo says Syria’s Kurdish fighters will be protected

The Secretary of State visits Baghdad and Erbil as part of his trip to reassure allies on planned US troop pullout.

Syria’s Kurds will be protected from Turkish military threats, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Kurdish leaders in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region on Wednesday during an unannounced trip to Erbil.

The top US diplomat earlier met Iraqi leaders in Baghdad as part of his Middle East trip to reassure allies about President Donald Trump’s surprise plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

In Iraq, Pompeo also sought to smooth over relations after political leaders were angered when President Trump visited US troops on the day after Christmas at a remote desert air base without stopping in Baghdad or meeting any Iraqi officials.

Many politicians from the ruling coalition of mainly Shia parties called Trump’s visit a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and demanded the US withdraw troops.

Pompeo met Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, President Barham Salih, Foreign Minister Mohamed Alhakim and Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

The US State Department did not immediately comment on reports of Pompeo’s visit to Iraq. 

“This is an opportunity to express our gratitude for the support we have received from the United States over the years. Certainly in the war against ISIS [also known as ISIL] this has been most crucial,” Salih told reporters on Tuesday.

He added that although the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had been defeated militarily, “there is a lot more to be done, the mission is yet to be accomplished”.OW

On Tuesday, Mahdi, the prime minister, had declined to confirm rumours of a possible visit by Pompeo, but said any meeting with the US secretary of state would involve a discussion of how to deepen Iraq’s relationship wiht the US-led coalition fighting ISIL.