President Donald Trump made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Wednesday, leaving behind a partially shuttered US government to greet American troops helping hold off extremists in a country where thousands of Americans died during the recent war.
It comes a week after Trump stunned his national security advisers by announcing that he would withdraw US troops from neighboring Syria where they have been fighting Islamic State militants. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigned following the announcement, and Trump’s decision rattled allies around the world, including in Iraq.
Trump’s trip was shrouded in secrecy. Air Force One flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad under the cover of darkness Wednesday evening. It is his first visit with troops stationed in a troubled region.
Fifteen years after the 2003 invasion, the US still has more than 5 000 troops in Iraq supporting the government as it continues the fight against remaining pockets of resistance by the Islamic State group. ISIS has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.