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Pompeo visits Iraq amid tensions with Iran


Baghdad:  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made an unscheduled, fleeting visit to Iraq, amid growing tensions with Iran. Details released by the US, however, did not make it clear whether he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi during his short visit here.

Pompeo had cancelled a trip to Berlin to meet with Iraqi leaders during a four-hour stop in the national capital, the BBC reported.

The visit came days after a US aircraft carrier was deployed to the region, which officials said was in response to threats to US forces and its allies from Iran. On Tuesday it was revealed the US was sending B-52 bombers to the region.

The US has so far given little information about the exact nature of the reported threat, which Iran has dismissed as nonsense. Speaking to reporters after his meetings, Pompeo directly linked the visit to the recent escalation with Iran, which neighbours Iraq. The deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln was announced on Sunday.

Pompeo also said that he wanted to "speak with the leadership (in Iraq), to assure them that we stood ready to continue to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation". He also said he wanted to help them become less dependent on energy deals with Iran, the BBC reported.

John Bolton, the US national security adviser, had then only said the US was acting "in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings".

In response, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that "the #B_Team is at it again". "From announcements of naval movements (that actually occurred last month) to dire warnings about so-called 'Iranian threats'," he added. "If US and clients don't feel safe, it's because they're despised by the people of the region -- blaming Iran won't reverse that."

Last month, the White House said it would end exemptions from sanctions for five countries -- China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey -- that were still buying Iranian oil, the BBC report added.

At the same time the US also blacklisted Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, designating it as a foreign terrorist group. The Trump administration hopes to compel Iran to negotiate a "new deal" that would cover not only its nuclear activities, but also its ballistic missile programme and what officials call its "malign behaviour" across the Middle East.

The sanctions have led to a sharp downturn in Iran's economy, pushing the value of its currency to record lows, driving away foreign investors, and triggering protests.

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