- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan sought to cool simmering tensions on a visit to Iraq this week over President Trump’s suggestion the U.S. could keep a large contingent of troops in the country to “watch” Iran and prevent a resurgence of terrorist violence.

Speaking to reporters after a pair of surprise visits this week to Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Shanahan said he emphasized the shared security concerns between Washington and Baghdad during his conversations with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

While the Pentagon chief did not explicitly address possible U.S. troop levels or a changing mission in Iraq, both officials did discuss the potential threat Iran posed to U.S. and Iraqi interests in the region, Mr. Shanahan said.

SEE ALSO: ‘Acting’ Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan unlikely to get permanent position

Mr. Trump in a Super Bowl day interview with CBS had inflamed some in Iraq’s coalition government with his Iran remarks, which some saw as intruding on Iraqi sovereignty and an attempt to draw Baghdad into the mounting clash between Washington and Tehran.

“One of the reasons I want to keep [U.S. troops in Iraq] is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem,” Mr. Trump said. Shortly thereafter, Iraqi President Barham Salih said Washington had not consulted with Baghdad on plans to maintain an American military presence in the country, prior to Mr. Trump’s announcement.

“We did discuss Iran indirectly, and the conversation was more about Iran in the context of Iraq’s independence,” Mr. Shanahan said while en route to NATO headquarters in Brussels. For his part, Mr. Abdul-Mahdi emphasized the “need to maintain good relationships with all of our neighbors, and [the] need to maintain strong relationships with the United States,” he added.

During the Iraq visit, Mr. Shanahan voiced the administration’s recognition of Iraqi sovereignty.

“We understand that we’re there by invitation, that we jointly share the resources, and that we clearly recognize their sovereignty,” Mr. Shanahan added.

He told reporters that a possible relocation to Iraq of U.S. forces being pulled out of Syria by Mr. Trump was not explicitly discussed on his Baghdad trip.

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