On February 4th, US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Frank McKenzie visited Iraq in an attempt to mend relations with the Iraqi government.
The CENTCOM commander is reportedly in Iraq to attempt and shut down the Iraqi government’s push to expel all foreign troops from the country and specifically those from the US.
McKenzie met with Iraq leaders in Baghdad and then went to see American troops at al-Asad Air base, which was struck with ballistic missiles by Iran on January 8th.
He said he was “heartened” by the meetings, adding, “I think we’re going to be able to find a way forward.”
According to a statement from Abdul-Mahdi’s office, they discussed “joint operations by Iraq and US to eliminate terrorism in the region, as well as shifting Iraq away from being a battlefield for a regional conflict”.
The statement also confirmed that Abdul-Mahdi informed McKenzie that the “Iraqi parliament decision to expel the US troops is an essential move in order to provide security and stability, as well as meeting the recent demands by the Iraqis”.
The meeting between Abdul-Mahdi and McKenzie was attended by Iraq’s Defense Minister Nijah al-Shimari. Falih al-Fayyadh, Iraq’s National Security Advisor and head of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was also in attendance.
Fayyadh participated in the storming of the US embassy compound in the Baghdad Green Zone on December 31.
McKenzie has been touring the Middle East for two weeks, alongside two reporters, but they didn’t enter Iraq with him because they had no visas.
Speaking to The Associated Press and Washington Post reporters after he returned, McKenzie said it’s difficult to predict how the discussions will turn out, particularly because the government is in transition.
He is also the highest-ranking US official to visit Iraq since the US assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3rd.
While he met with outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, President Barham Saleh, and speaker of the House Mohammed al-Halbousi, he did not see the Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi.
McKenzie said that due to the strained relations, joint operations and trainings between US and Iraqi troops were carrying out at a smaller scale.
He said there is “some training” and that U.S. special operations forces are doing missions with Iraqi commandos. But, he said, “we’re still in a period of turbulence. We’ve got a ways to go.”
In addition, the US was seeking to deploy Patriot batteries to Iraq, since the Iranian strikes on al-Asad air base were so successful because there are no sophisticated missile defense from the US.
So far, 64 US troops have been reported as suffering from traumatic brain injury, in an ever-increasing number of injured personnel being admitted by the Pentagon.
“That is one of the matters we have to work on and work through” with the Baghdad government, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told a Pentagon news conference. He and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made clear that they want Patriots in Iraq as part of an effort to improve protection of U.S. forces there.
This also indicates that there are no plans whatsoever to withdraw any troops from Iraq.
McKenzie, too, said he discussed the deployment of Patriot batteries during his meetings but he declined to provide any details.
He said, however, that he believes the threat from Iran and its proxy forces in Iraq, Syria and other areas continues and that “it is a really dangerous time.”
In order to justify why he went into Iraq, he said that as the top Middle East commander, “I have a moral obligation to go there.”
He added, ’It’s important to go and see the Iraqi government, to show them we’re with them and that this is an important relationship.”
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