Pence makes unannounced visit to Iraq

FILE US Vice President Mike Pence

Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday took a veiled swipe at Congress and its impeachment probe into President Donald Trump during an unannounced trip to Iraq to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Kurdish allies and visit United States troops ahead of Thanksgiving.

Barzani, meanwhile, thanked Pence for the USA military's backing in the fight against the "Islamic State" (IS) armed group, adding that his "visit at this particular time is an important indication of your continued support to Kurdistan and Iraq".

"The phone call addressed the developments in Iraq and the government's reform efforts in response to the protesters' demands", said a statement from the prime minister's office.

Pence made two stops during his short trip, which was previously unannounced for security reasons.

Earlier, Pence received a classified briefing at Iraq's Al-Asad Air Base, from which USA forces are believed to have launched the operation in Syria last month that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Mahdi voiced concern for recent violence in Iraq, including 300 deaths that occurred during protests that began in October.

Iraq has been rocked by mass anti-government protests since early last month against what demonstrators say is a corrupt political class that has become beholden to foreign powers since the 2003 United States invasion.

After feeding the troops, Pence met with Iraqi President Nechirvan Barzani.

"We want to see an Iraq that is free from the malign influence of Iran, and is also respecting the rights and voices of all its people", Pence said. "We continue to be concerned about the malign influence of Iran across Iraq", he said.

Vice President Mike Pence is criticizing Washington's impeachment proceedings as he greets US troops on a pre-Thanksgiving trip to Iraq.

The vice president went on to Erbil in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, seeking to show USA appreciation for Kurdish sacrifices and affirm a message of U.S. support and partnership with Kurdish fighters. Just weeks ago, Trump was lambasted by friends and foes alike for "abandoning" the Kurds in northeastern Syria ahead of the start of Turkey's markedly anti-Kurdish operation there.

Pence hailed the cease-fire as the way to end the bloodshed caused by Turkey's invasion.

That truce aimed to mitigate the crisis sparked by Trump's announcement, which US Republican and Democratic lawmakers criticised as a betrayal of Kurdish allies aligned with Washington in the fight against Islamic State. Kurds were "not angels" and had been "paid a lot of money" to fight as a ground force on behalf of the US, Trump said; at one point he even claimed the Kurds might be releasing Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) prisoners in the border area - repeating one of Ankara's talking points.

Pence did not leave the White House's frustration about the impeachment probe at home.

Addressing the troops, Pence informed them that Trump and his administration were working to secure a pay increase for the armed services, The Associated Press reported.

Pence was joined by his wife Karen to greet troops and serve turkey and yams, thanking them for their service.



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