- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2019

Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise weekend visit to Iraq to rally with troops, serve them a Thanksgiving lunch and offer support for Kurdish allies.

Mr. Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence landed at Al Asad Air Base just before noon, local-time, on Saturday and delivered remarks to 200 troops after a classified briefing and the meal.

“I know it doesn’t beat a home-cooked meal or spending time with your families, but I hope we brought a little bit of home here,” Mr. Pence told the troops.

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He thanked them for their service and called on Capitol Hill lawmakers to make sure military operations are funded.

“We need Congress to do their job. The truth is, Congress should have finished their business on defense appropriations months ago. But you all know partisan politics and endless investigations have slowed things down in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Pence said.

The vice president did not meet with Iraq’s president but did speak to its prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, by phone for 20 minutes. Mr. Pence encouraged the Iraqi government to embrace free speech amid protests across the country.

His entourage and traveling journalists then headed to the city of Erbil to meet with the president of the Kurdish region of Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani.

“We thank you for all the support and contributions you have made to Kurdistan,” Mr. Barzani said through an interpreter.

He also thanked President Trump and said he hopes their relationship will “continue to develop further.”

Mr. Pence called it a “great honor” to see Mr. Barzani and highlighted the “enduring bond that exists between the Kurdish people and the people of the United States.”

“I also welcome the opportunity on behalf of President Donald Trump to reiterate the strong bonds forged in the fires of war between the people of the United States and the Kurdish people across this region,” he said.

A senior administration official said meeting was designed in part to reassure them that Americans are not “anti-Kurd,” after Mr. Trump faced heat for withdrawing U.S. troops from the path of Turkish forces who attacked American-allied Kurds in northern Syria.

The officials said not all Kurds can be lumped together, and that the U.S. alliance with certain Kurdish fighters in Syria was designed to defeat the Islamic State and “not a long-term deal.”

More broadly, officials said Mr. Pence’s trip was set up to comfort U.S. troops and offer support for a stand for a “strong, independent, sovereign Iraq,” though one that treats its people fairly.

This was Mr. Pence’s first trip to Iraq as vice president, though he made more than 10 visits to the Middle East as a congressman, including one to Erbil, according to spokeswoman Katie Waldman.

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