President Trump and the first lady appeared in Iraq Wednesday for a surprise visit with troops “to thank them for their sacrifice and to wish them a merry Christmas,” Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Twitter. He landed at Al Asad Air Base, where he was joined by National Security Adviser John Bolton for meetings with political and military leaders. He said he had “no plans at all to remove US troops from Iraq.”
DEBKAfile’s sources report: While the trip is described formally as a holiday visit to the 5,000 US troops stationed in Iraq, it has three unusual features:
- It takes place in the week after Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and therefore signals the US intention to stay in the Middle East.
- Shortly before he landed, word was released of plans to build two new US bases in the western province of Anbar near the Syrian border. This means that Iran won’t have an open pathway from Iraq into Syria.
- He arrives in Iraq in the face of Tehran’s demand that the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias throw US forces out of Iraq.